BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen shot and killed a soldier in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, state media reported, the second such incident in a city deeply ensnared in violence related to the war in neighboring Syria.
The assailants opened fire on the car belonging to Butrous Baya, killing him instantly and causing the officer's vehicle to plunge into the nearby Abu Ali river, said the National News Agency. Baya was a member of Lebanon's so-called internal security force.
The attack came just a day after two masked gunmen on motorbikes opened fire and killed an officer in central Tripoli, despite Lebanese army reinforcements sent to the city. Syria-related clashes routinely flare up between two rival neighborhoods in Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city. In the past week, such fighting has killed two dozen people.
One neighborhood, the impoverished Bab Tabbaneh, is dominated by Sunni Muslims who support Syrian rebels. The other, Jabal Mohsen, is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the same sect of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Sunni hard-liners have threatened to attack Lebanese soldiers in the past, in retaliation for what they see as the army's bias toward the Shiite group Hezbollah. They claim the army ignores Hezbollah's policy of sending its well-trained fighters to wage battle alongside Assad's forces.
Hezbollah's involvement in Syria has further inflamed sectarian tensions with Lebanese Sunnis. A series of car bombs have struck Shiite areas across Lebanon since the summer, killing dozens of people. Hard-line Sunni groups have claimed responsibility for the killings, saying they are meant to punish Shiites for supporting Hezbollah.
The Lebanese military said late Thursday that soldiers killed a man suspected of involvement in the murder of soldiers, preparing car bombs and firing mortar shells at Lebanese villages. The statement said Sami Atrash opened fire on the soldiers attempting to arrest him in the eastern town of Arsal, close to the Syrian border.
Arsal's deputy mayor, Ahmad Fliti, said the suspect was believed to be helping Syrian rebels, but that he wasn't aware of other charges. Many rebels have in the past weeks fled to Arsal after the fall of their stronghold on the Syrian side, Yabroud. Arsal is Sunni Muslim town that has supported the uprising against Assad. It has served as a logistical base for the fighters battling Assad's troops and Hezbollah militants in Syrian.
Lebanon's army has strengthened its presence around the frontier and Arsal in search of fighters crossing into Lebanon. The NNA said 15 Syrians who tried to enter the town were detained on Friday. Several were armed, the agency said.