Publisher: AP, Associated Press
Author: By Bassem Mroue
Story date: 05/12/2012
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Gunmen loyal to opposite sides in neighboring Syria's civil war battled on Wednesday in the streets of a northern Lebanese city where two days of clashes have killed at least six people and wounded more than 50, officials said.
The Lebanese army fanned out in the city of Tripoli in an attempt to calm the fighting, with soldiers patrolling the streets in armored personnel carriers and manning checkpoints. Authorities closed major roads because of sniper fire.
The fighting comes at a time of deep uncertainty in Syria, with rebels fighting government troops near President Bashar Assad's seat of power in Damascus.
In Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated concerns that "an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons" or lose control of them to militant groups.
She also said NATO's decision on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to Turkey's southern border with Syria sends a message that Ankara is backed by its allies. The missiles are intended only for defensive purposes, she said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted Wednesday in the Turkish newspaper Sabah as saying that Syria has about 700 missiles, some of them long-range.
"At this very moment we know where those missiles are, how they are being stored, whose hands they are in," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday also urged Syria's regime against using its stockpile of chemical weapons, warning of "huge consequences" if Mr. Assad resorts to such weapons of mass destruction.
Syria has been careful not to confirm that it has chemical weapons, but the regime insists it would never use them against the Syrian people.
Mr. Ban also suggested that he would not favor an asylum deal for the Syrian leader as a way to end the country's civil war, and cautioned that the U.N. doesn't allow anyone "impunity."
Mr. Assad has vowed to "live and die" in Syria, but as the violence grinds on there is speculation that he might seek asylum.
The Syrian crisis has spilled over into Turkey, Israel and Jordan over the past 20 months, but Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to getting sucked into the conflict. The countries share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily enflamed.
Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising in Syria began, and deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Assad Lebanese groups have erupted more than a dozen times.
Tensions in Tripoli have been mounting since last week, when reports emerged that some 17 Lebanese Sunni fighters were killed inside Syria, apparently after they joined the rebellion against Mr. Assad.
The bodies of some of the men were later shown on Syrian state TV.
On Wednesday, Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdul Karim Ali told Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour that Damascus has agreed to repatriate the men's bodies.
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