The death toll from fighting between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli climbed to at least 10 overnight, medical sources said on Wednesday, in clashes that the city's residents described as some of the heaviest since Lebanon's civil war.
More than 100 people have been wounded in the fighting which erupted this week along a sectarian fault line between the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the Alawite area of Jebel Mohsen.
The sectarian tone of the fighting reflects the Syrian conflict that increasingly sets a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority.
After a lull, Tripoli was rocked by some two dozen explosions between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., apparently caused by rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses said. The fighters have also been using automatic machine guns.
The area is one of Lebanon's most volatile and chronic Sunni-Alawite tensions spilled into clashes that killed 15 people in early June. At least 10 soldiers have been wounded in efforts to stop the violence, the army has said.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was “very concerned” about the spillover effect from Syria.
Assad forces kill 23 in Damascus raids
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops on Wednesday shelled two Damascus districts before storming the neighborhoods and conducting house-to-house raids in search of opposition forces, killing at least 23 suspected opposition fighters, activists said.
Regime forces rained mortars down on the upscale Kafar Soussa neighborhood and the adjacent Nahr Eishah area at daybreak, according to activists. The shelling apparently came from Qasioun mountain overlooking the capital, a Damascus resident said on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The attacks may have been designed to kill or capture opposition mortar teams who have used the two neighborhoods in recent days to target the city's Mazzeh military airport, activists said.
The violence is part of a dramatic surge in fighting over the past month in Damascus, which is just one of many fronts President Bashar al-Assad's regime is struggling to contain as the rebellion against his rule gains strength. Government forces are also engaged in a major battle for control of the northern city of Aleppo as well as smaller scale operations in the south, east and central regions.
An activist, who only wanted to be identified by the name Bassam for fear of retribution, said 11 people were killed in Kafar Soussa and that as many as 22 tanks stormed the district with about 20 soldiers on foot behind each one. He spoke via Skype from central Damascus.
The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll in Kafar Soussa at 12.
Bassam and the observatory also reported heavy government shelling of Nahr Eishah early Wednesday. They said regime forces then conducted house-to-house raids in search of opposition fighters. Bassam said as many as 12 people were killed in Nahr Eishah, while the observatory had no word on casualties.
It was not clear whether those killed in the two areas died in the shelling or later. Other activists, including one reached by Skype in Kafar Soussa, spoke of execution-style killings in both areas.
The activists' reports could not be independently verified.
Syria's ongoing civil war has its roots in a mostly peaceful uprising against Assad's regime that began in March last year. The uprising grew increasingly violent as the regime employed brutal methods to suppress street protests, including the use of live ammunition and the detention and torture of thousands.
In a related development, a Syrian government official has warned the United States that military intervention in Syria could lead to regional turmoil as regime forces bombed a northern village and stormed an opposition-held Damascus suburb, killing dozens of people, activists said.
The comments came a day after President Barack Obama said the US would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in the Syrian civil war if Assad's government deploys or uses chemical or biological weapons, describing it as a “red line” for the United States.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil called Obama's statements “propagandistic threats” made in connection with the US presidential election. But Jamil also said the comments indicate that the West is looking for a pretext to intervene militarily.
He insisted that such intervention would be “impossible” because it would cause the civil war to spread to other countries in the region.
“Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria's borders,” Jamil told reporters during a visit to Moscow.
Most of Tuesday's fighting appeared centered in Damascus suburbs, which have witnessed a dramatic spike in fighting over the past month.
The Syrian activist group the Local Coordination Committees and an opposition spokesman also said regime troops entered the opposition-held suburb of Moadamiyeh from four points, raiding homes in search of anti-Assad fighters.
The opposition spokesman, who asked to be identified only by his first name Ahmed said three men in their late 20s and early 30s were shot dead execution-style soon after the town fell to regime forces.
He also said 23 fighters from the Free Syrian Army opposition group were killed when government forces stormed the town at dawn.
Later, activists said dozens of bodies were found dumped in a building in the town. The LCC said they appear to have been killed execution-style. But Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said it was not clear whether they were killed in the shelling or had been shot.
The reports could not be independently verified. Moadamiyeh, west of the capital, Damascus, had been under siege for more than two weeks. Its capture followed days of intense fighting and shelling by government troops.