Lebanon tense after army kills anti-Assad group members
* Fears that Syria violence spilling over
* Deaths follow days of fighting in north Lebanon
* Bomb blast, fighting in Syrian capital Damascus (Adds roads blocked in Beirut, PM comment, schools closed)
By Oliver Holmes
BEIRUT, May 20 (Reuters) – Lebanese soldiers shot dead two members of an alliance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in northern Lebanon on Sunday, security sources said, in the latest incident to raise fears Syria’s turmoil was spilling over the border into its neighbour.
Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni Muslim cleric, and Muhammed Hussein Miraib, both members of the Lebanon-based March 14 political alliance, were shot in their car as they sped through a Lebanese army checkpoint without stopping, the sources said.
Residents of the northern region of Akkar blocked off roads and burned tyres to protest against the deaths. The main coastal highway as well as roads in the capital of Beirut were also blocked by enraged residents.
Many Sunni Muslims in Lebanon’s north sympathise with Syria’s Sunni-led uprising against Assad and say the Lebanese army is taking orders from Damascus.
Syrian government troops were garrisoned in Lebanon until 2005.
Lebanon’s army released a statement confirming the deaths but not giving any information on who was responsible or what led up to the shootings.
“The leadership of the army expresses deep regret for the death of the two victims … It will immediately form an investigative committee comprised of senior officers and military police under the relevant court,” the statement said.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati tried to quell growing tensions. “The government is determined to continue to shoulder its national responsibilities amid this critical period in Lebanon and the region, and it will take all measures necessary to preserve civil peace,” he said in a statement.
Lebanon is a tiny country still recovering from its own 15-year civil war and has seen sporadic violence between its many sects since that conflict ended in 1990.
TROOPS PULL OUT
Some troops pulled out of Akkar to prevent tensions from escalating, the security source and residents said.
Khaled Daher, a member of parliament from the Future Movement party, which is part of the March 14 alliance, said the two men had been assassinated.
“If shots were fired at the tyres, we would say there was a mistake. But we consider this a direct targeting from the army,” he told Reuters.
“Frankly, we do not want to see the army here because it works at the service of the Syrian regime,” he said.
Beirut-based political commentator Rami Khouri said recent violence in Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli had been linked to events in Syria.
“You have tensions in the area going back years but this has been exacerbated by the situation in Syria … Syria is not the primary factor, but it is related,” he said.
Just outside Syria’s capital Damascus, a roadside bomb exploded on Sunday about 150 metres from a United Nations convoy carrying the head of a Syria ceasefire monitoring mission and a senior U.N. official in the town of Douma, a Reuters witness said.
Major General Robert Mood and Herv? Ladsous, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, were in a convoy at an army checkpoint when the bomb detonated in an nearby alleyway.
There were no reports of casualties but a security source in Douma told Reuters there had been clashes earlier in the day and that gunmen wounded 29 members of the security forces.
Sawssan Ghoshe, a spokeswoman for the monitors, said the mission was not targeted and it continued the visit in the city without any problems.
Damascus residents said there were heavy clashes in central parts of the city overnight and a rebel group said it assassinated Syria’s interior and defence ministers.
Both ministers denied on state TV the claims made by the rebel al-Sahaba Brigades. Imad Turkmani, an army general close to Assad, accused pan-Arab satellite news channels who mentioned the rebel report of spreading “vicious rumours”.