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Potential for more violence in Tripoli.

Summary: Despite the increased Army presence in Bab al-Tabbaneh and the constant raids since the disappearance of Islamist Shadi Mawlawi on Oct. 20,.

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Despite the increased Army presence in Bab al-Tabbaneh and the constant raids since the disappearance of Islamist Shadi Mawlawi on Oct. 20, the impoverished, largely Sunni neighborhood of Tripoli is still on edge. The intense clashes at the end of last month between the military and Islamist gunmen inspired by the Nusra Front and ISIS -- just the latest installment in violence over the last few years -- has left its marks in the bullet-ridden building exteriors.

People of Bab al-Tabbaneh endure tough living conditions that have only deteriorated over the last few years, due to round upon round of Syria-linked fighting, all of which seems pointless to most of those who reside there.

Outside a grilled chicken shop, a group of residents are having a heated conversation about compensation payments to those whose buildings were damaged in the October battles, and about the recent tour of the area by the Higher Relief Committee's chief, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Khair.

The owner of the chicken shop, Abdel-Hamid al-Hanoun, listens with interest as the men argue over who will get what and whether it will come through.

"My damages have exceeded $30,000 after both my restaurant and its store were burned down," he told The Daily Star. "So far I have fixed everything out of my own pocket, without waiting for anyone to tell me what I should or shouldn't do."

"Our problem with the Lebanese government -- whose existence we welcome because it is a guarantor of a dignified life -- is that it is not doing its job and caring for us," he said. "It shirks all of its duties, while asking us to heed of all of ours, such as paying taxes.

"The joke is that Tripoli's municipality has collected taxes, while garbage is gathering in the streets unchecked," he said.

Hanoun's words are indicative of how many people in the area feel.

They are less bothered by the heightened security measures than they are by the continuing perceived governmental neglect and lack of basic services.

The situation for many has now become so desperate that there are even rumors that residents are selling on what little aid they receive to make money.

A security source expressed his relief that the military crackdown had gone off well, allowing the Army to penetrate places in the restive neighborhood that it had not been able to reach since 2005.

According to the same source, reports indicate that fugitives Mawlawi and his partner in crime Osama Mansour -- both of whom are believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda -- are still in Bab al-Tabbaneh or in the surrounding areas. Their presence was one of the main reasons that Tripoli exploded into violence last month.

"Mawlawi and Mansour will be caught," insisted the security source. "It is just a matter of time and putting more pressure on the pair. They are now semi-isolated, but still we need to get the plan to capture them just right."

The mystery of their disappearance has led to many questions, and parallels have been drawn with the vanishing acts pulled by Ahmad Assir, Sidon's radical sheikh; Shaker al-Absi, Nahr al-Bared's former head of Fatah al-Islam; Ali Eid, the head of the Arab Democratic Party, which dominates Tripoli's Jabal Mohsen, and his son Ali. All of these men evaporated into thin air as soon as the battles they were fighting stopped going in their favor.

Remarkably, Mawlawi recently surfaced on social media website Twitter, where he promised to set the facts straight. "Wait for a statement from us concerning the identities of those who sold off the Sunni men in Tripoli, who failed them, who conspired against them and who took their weapons from them [and gave them to the government]." He also accused Tripoli preachers of conspiring against Sunni men.

The tweeted threat is a clear indication of his awkward situation, which may soon lead to his arrest.

But tension in Tripoli is unlikely to disappear soon.

Tripoli militia commanders who turned themselves in to the authorities in the wake of the security crackdown in April have decided to turn against the politicians who previously protected them and incited them to fight residents of Jabal Mohsen, and are waging an attack against them in the media.

The commanders, in particular Saad Masri and Ziad Allouki, are enraged that the politicians have not expedited their trials as promised, but instead have left them to sit in prison. Families of those imprisoned have said the fighters will no longer stay silent and will instead reveal which of the politicians were involved in the fighting, including parties and former and current ministers and deputies.

Security in Tripoli is still on a knife-edge and remains vulnerable to attacks by ISIS and Nusra Front, who continue to look for logistical supply routes from the Syrian border into the country.

But the mukhtar of Bab al-Tabbaneh, Ali Ajaya, is not worried about these issues.

Instead, he is more concerned with repairing and strengthening the battered relationship between locals and the government.

"You have to realize that the latest events have created real hatred [among residents] for the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah and the security measures," he said. "Because of the spillover of the Syrian crisis and the escalating sectarian tensions, the majority of people in Bab al-Tabbaneh stand with the Syrian people [opposition] against the [President Bashar] Assad regime.

"Yet the general atmosphere is supportive of the Army and is with the Lebanese government. Embracing these people requires hard work, but they should not be punished for supporting the Syrian revolution."

Ajaya added that the conflict would not truly go away as long as the main militants involved had not been arrested but had simply disappeared for a while, especially given that the underlying factors behind the fighting had not been dealt with.

"The sectarian background of the young men from this area pushed them to take up arms," Ajaya said.

"We warned the government that it had to deal with the reasons behind this trend if it wants to stop the fighting.

"The situation in Bab al-Tabbaneh could explode again at any minute; this is what we all fear."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:6LIBY
Date:Nov 12, 2014
Words:1062
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