Civilians Flee and Soldiers Die in Clashes in Lebanon
By Anne Barnard, NY Times, June 24, 2013
SIDON, Lebanon—Tanks careened through this seaside city, gunfire crackled along near-deserted streets and thick smoke rose from the hilltop neighborhood where followers of a radical Sunni cleric clashed for a second day on Monday with the Lebanese Army, killing at least 12 soldiers. The deaths were the army’s worst losses since the conflict in neighboring Syria began fueling sporadic skirmishes in Lebanon two years ago.
During pauses in the battle, families sped away in packed cars, waving white flags improvised from ripped sheets; one even used a bunch of tissues. Taken by surprise, some residents spent the night pinned down in supermarkets, in their offices, in a KFC chicken franchise.
Though the fighting seemed to have eased by early evening, shaken residents said they feared the clashes—which shut down a religiously mixed city of 200,000, left windows shattered in gleaming downtown malls and pitted the army against a provocative cleric who has played on sectarian tensions—revealed that the country was drifting rudderless toward deepening conflict.
Lebanon’s mainstream political leaders, residents said, appeared powerless or unwilling to rein in the cleric or address his followers’ concerns, leading to a clash they called more dangerous and destabilizing than the perennial battles between supporters and opponents of the Syrian government in the northern city of Tripoli, which have largely been confined to two neighborhoods. In this case, the conflict was rooted in a Lebanese power struggle that resonates throughout the country, a troubling development for a nation that lived through 15 years of sectarian civil war.
In the emergency room of Hamoud Hospital, which received more than 40 wounded soldiers and 10 injured civilians, several stricken-looking surgeons said the fighting felt like the early skirmishes of the civil war in 1975. Asked whether it could be contained, they cast their gaze downward.
"We hope," one said, as the wail of a woman who had lost her son in the fighting echoed through the corridor.