Lebanese pro-Hezbollah cleric unhurt in shooting

Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen fired on a prominent pro-Hezbollah Sunni cleric in southern Lebanon on Monday but failed to hit him, while Lebanese factions backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war clashed in the border area for the second straight day, security officials said.

The attack on Sheik Maher Hammoud in the port city of Sidon comes amid recurrent violence in Lebanon apparently linked to Syria's conflict, increasing the fear that the conflict next door will re-ignite the Lebanese civil war that ended in 1990.

Hammoud was fired on by assailants in a moving vehicle as he was walking from his home in Sidon south of Beirut to the al-Quds Mosque where he preaches, the officials said. His bodyguards returned fire but no one on either side was hurt, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Hammoud is a longtime supporter of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group, whose role in Syria's civil war has become more public in recent weeks. They fight on behalf of President Bashar Assad's regime, dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam, and dozens have been killed in an ongoing battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon.

Sidon is a majority Sunni Muslim city, and many Lebanese Sunnis back Syria's Sunni-dominated rebels.

It was not clear who was behind the shooting. Hammoud told a Lebanese TV station that he assumed it was linked to his support for "Hezbollah's jihad" in Syria.

"I would assume it was an attempted assassination," Hammoud said after Monday's attack in an interview with Al-Mayadeen TV, seen as sympathetic to the Syrian regime. "It might be because we publicly support Hezbollah's jihad."

Rival sectarian factions have frequently clashed inside Lebanon during the 2-year-old conflict.

Clashes raged into the night Sunday between Sunnis and Alawites in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, killing one person and wounding at least 14 people, according to Lebanon's state-run National News Agency.

On Monday, gunbattles subsided in Tripoli, although there was still sniper activity in several neighborhoods most affected by the fighting, the official news service said. Lebanese army is patrolling the city and universities, schools and business have opened, it added.

Just over the border inside Syria, Hezbollah guerrillas were fighting Lebanese Sunni militants trying to reach Qusair to fighting alongside the rebels, residents in the area said. They said clashes were taking place in the Syrian village of Jousih, about 13 kilometers (eight miles) from Qusair. There were no immediate reports on casualties.

In Lebanon over the weekend, three rockets from Syria struck the northeast and 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit Lebanon's eastern Baalbek region, a Hezbollah stronghold.

From Saturday night into Sunday, Hezbollah encircled and ambushed Syrian rebels and allied Lebanese fighters whom they suspected of rocketing Baalbek, a Lebanese security official said.

A Hezbollah fighter and several rebels were killed in the clashes in a remote area near the Syrian border, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.

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