BEIRUT (AP) — Gunbattles between Hezbollah fighters and residents of a city in eastern Lebanon killed at least three people and wounded six others Saturday, officials and residents said.
The fighting in Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley, began around noon at a checkpoint run by the Shiite militant group and raged throughout the afternoon. By nightfall, security forces backed by tanks had deployed in the streets and set up checkpoints in an effort to restore calm, a resident said.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that three people were killed and several others wounded. Hospital officials in Baalbek put the death toll at five, including a vegetable vendor and another bystander. The medical officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. The differing casualty figures could not be immediately reconciled.
Security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said two Hezbollah members were among the dead. Lebanon has been on edge as a result of the civil war in neighboring Syria, with many Lebanese divided between supporters of Presidents Bashar Assad's regime and the opposition.
Lebanese Sunnis back the mostly Sunni rebel movement fighting to topple Assad. Shiites support the Syrian regime, which is dominated by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The resident, who spoke by telephone and asked that his name not be made public for fear of reprisals, said armed Shiite tribesmen who deployed in the area earlier in the day were demanding that those who opened fire at the checkpoint be handed over to Lebanese authorities.
Hezbollah set up checkpoints in its strongholds after an Aug. 15 blast in Beirut's southern suburbs killed 27 people. Many resent the checkpoints.
Associated Press writer Yasmine Saker contributed to this report.