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Syrian civil war spills into Lebanon

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 9:05 am

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Gunmen loyal to opposite sides in neighboring Syria's civil war battled on Wednesday in the streets of a northern Lebanese city where two days of fighting killed at least five people and wounded 45, officials said.

The Lebanese army fanned out in the city of Tripoli to calm the fighting, with soldiers patrolling the streets in armored personnel carriers and manning checkpoints. Authorities closed major roads because of sniper fire.

The fighting comes at a time of deep uncertainty in Syria, with rebels closing in on President Bashar Assad's seat of power in Damascus.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged Syria's regime against using its stockpile of chemical weapons, warning of "huge consequences" if Assad resorts to such weapons of mass destruction.

"I again urge in the strongest possible terms that they must not consider using this kind of deadly weapons of mass destruction," Ban told The Associated Press, speaking on the sidelines of a climate conference in Qatar.

Syria has been careful not to confirm that it has chemical weapons, but the regime insists it would never use them against the Syrian people.

Ban also suggested that he would not favor an asylum deal for the Syrian leader as a way to end the country's civil war and cautioned that the United Nations doesn't allow anyone "impunity." Assad has vowed to "live and die" in Syria, but as the violence grinds on there is speculation that he might seek asylum.

The Syria conflict has spilled over into Turkey, Israel and Jordan over the past 20 months, but Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to getting sucked in. The countries share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily enflamed. Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising in Syria began, and deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Assad Lebanese groups have erupted on several occasions.

Tensions in Tripoli have been mounting since last week, when reports emerged that some 17 Lebanese Sunni fighters were killed inside Syria, apparently after they joined the rebellion against Assad. The bodies of some of the men were later shown in Syrian state TV.

On Wednesday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour was informed by Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdul Karim Ali that Syria had agreed to repatriate the men's bodies. Lebanon's National News Agency said the countries would soon discuss how to hand over the bodies.

Anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon have criticized the Hezbollah-led government for what they call a lack of effort to get the bodies back. Lebanon's Hezbollah supports Assad.

Lebanese security officials said at least five people have been killed and 45 wounded in the Tripoli fighting since Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

The fighting in Tripoli pits the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh, which supports Syria's rebels, against the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports Assad.

Syrian rebels are predominantly Sunni whereas Assad and his inner circle are dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Syria's uprising began with peaceful protests in March 2011 and later escalated into a civil war that the opposition says has killed more than 40,000 people.

Fighting continued around Syria on Wednesday, with rebels clashing with government trips around the capital, Damascus, and elsewhere.

In the north, a Syrian jet bombed the rebel-held town of Tal Abyad, near the Turkish border, and rebels responded with anti-aircraft fire, Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency said. At least two people injured in the attacks were brought to the Turkish border town of Akcakale for treatment.