Sunni cleric killed in north Lebanon clashes

Sunni gunmen in Tripoli, Lebanon (24 August 2012) Tripoli is one of Lebanon's most volatile sectarian faultlines

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Three people, including a Sunni Muslim cleric, have been killed in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli amid renewed sectarian clashes fuelled by the conflict in Syria, officials say.

Sheikh Khaled al-Baradei was shot by a sniper as fighting erupted between gunmen in the Sunni district of Qobbeh and the Alawite area of Jabal Muhsin.

The deaths bring to 15 the number of people killed in Tripoli since Monday.

Lebanon's prime minister has urged all sides to help the army restore order.

"The army is carrying out its role with all devotion," Najib Mikati told reporters on Thursday, following a meeting with security chiefs and MPs at his residence in Beirut.

On Wednesday, Mr Mikati, a Sunni from Tripoli, warned that there were "efforts to drag Lebanon more and more into the conflict in Syria, when what is required is for leaders to co-operate... to protect Lebanon".

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite and members of the Shia sect hold key posts in the government and security forces.

Lebanese soldiers deployed along Syria Street in Tripoli (23 August 2012) Relative calm had returned after hundreds of soldiers were deployed along Syria Street

Syria's majority Sunni community has meanwhile been at the forefront of the revolt against the state and has borne the brunt of the crackdown during the conflict, which the UN says has left more than 18,000 people dead.

'Alarming and dangerous'

The latest clashes in Tripoli began at dawn on Friday and saw Sunni and Alawite fighters firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades between Qobbeh and Jabal Muhsin.

The exchanges sparked large fires in both areas, which are located in the east of Lebanon's second largest city. A security source told the Reuters news agency that at least seven Alawite-owned shops located in Sunni districts had been torched.

Sheikh Baradei was shot early on Friday. Unconfirmed reports said the 28-year-old had been a commander of the Sunni Islamist fighters.

The two other deaths were reported in Qobbeh and the neighbouring Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbana, officials said.

Two journalists are also said to have been wounded by snipers.

A Lebanese security source told Reuters the situation was "alarming and dangerous", adding: "It is very likely that it will escalate this time."

Relative calm had returned after hundreds of soldiers backed by tanks were deployed on Thursday along Syria Street, which divides Bab al-Tabbana and Jabal Muhsin and has become the frontline.

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