Tripoli Children Sleep Rough as Fighting Rages

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Rania sits on a blanket in the street, clutching her three children a day after they fled deadly fighting in the flashpoint Tripoli district of Bab al-Tabbaneh.

"It's our children who pay the price," she says, bouncing her wide-eyed toddler Ahmed on her lap.

"We first left the house on Sunday, when the fighting began. At first we thought it was celebratory gunfire for a wedding, but then the mortar rounds started to fall," she says.

Terrified, she and her husband Abdullah gathered Ahmed and his two sisters, Nurhan and Batoul, and fled their neighborhood in their car.

With nowhere to go, they are sleeping in the beaten up vehicle, and spending their days sitting on a red-and-black blanket, listening to the crackle of sniper fire just down the road.

They are surrounded by other families who have also fled the fighting that broke out on Sunday between rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and neighboring Jabal Mohsen.

Despite repeated efforts to resolve the flare-up in violence that began Sunday, at least 17 people have been killed and 150 injured.

The violence is linked to the conflict raging for more than two years in neighboring Syria, where Sunni-led rebels are battling to overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad, an Alawite.

The latest flare-up began as Syrian regime troops stormed the rebel-held town of Qusayr, not far from the border.

But some terrified residents in Tripoli say they want nothing to do with the conflict.

"If putting a picture of Assad on my house would stop the conflict, I'd do it," Rania says desperately.

On Tuesday, as the fighting appeared to be subsiding, her family went home.

But as night fell, the clashes resumed even more fiercely.

"It was a real war. I didn't want to leave at first, but I have three children," her husband Abdullah says.

"We had to flee under fire, I thank God we made it out.

"But there is nothing here for us, we can't work, so there's no money for food. The children are not in school, here we have no bathroom for them, nothing," he says.

Inside Bab al-Tabbaneh, most shops are closed. A rare coffee shop is open, two plastic tables ringed by elderly men smoking and playing cards.

In front of them stands an abandoned street cart, its glass shattered by the fire that continues to ring out through the streets.

Nearby, residents have hung a blue plastic sheet across the end of the street, to shield passers-by from the view of snipers.

Young men, some wearing black t-shirts and caps with Islamic phrases written on them in white, roam the streets carrying machine guns.

They accuse the residents of Jabal Mohsen of starting the fight, and say the Lebanese army -- which has deployed in an unsuccessful bid to calm the situation -- of siding with the neighboring district.

"We are with the Lebanese state and follow the law but what can we do when we are under attack from both sides, the army and Jabal Mohsen?" asks one gunman in his 40s, who declines to give his name.

"The ones in Jabal Mohsen, who support Assad and Hizbullah, started the fight," says Kamal, 31, a cleric sitting in the streets, dressed in a long black tunic and short trousers.

"They are organized, they have heavy weapons, we're just locals defending ourselves with whatever we can buy."

Hizbullah sides with the Syrian regime and is hated in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Nearby, Abu Ahmed, 60, is dispensing tiny cups of coffee to the few residents still in the streets.

"Whenever the fighting calms a little, I come down from my house and try to sell a few cups," he says.

"But I have five sons, and they are all on the streets, defending us."

Although efforts to resolve the flare-up are continuing, residents express little confidence that any truce will last.

"So long as those dogs up there don't want a solution, the fighting will continue," 27-year-old fighter Abu Jandal says, gesturing towards Jabal Mohsen.

"There is no way to live with people like them, and we're not afraid to die as martyrs."

Comments 3
Thumb primesuspect 23 May 2013, 20:32

Poor kids, always on the first line of collaterals.

Default-user-icon habib (Guest) 23 May 2013, 22:41

What a disgustingly one-sided article. Aren't there children in Jabal Mohsen too? Aren't they completely surrounded on all sides?

Saalafis have turned to punishing Lebanese Alawites because they are being defeated in Qusayr. That is the sole reason for the renewed fighting.

Thumb phoenician 24 May 2013, 02:03