Clashes linked to the 21-month conflict in Syria have killed four people and wounded 40 others in neighbouring Lebanon, a security official said.
The latest fighting between Sunni Muslims and Alawite co-religionists of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern city of Tripoli on Sunday came as Lebanese authorities received the first three bodies from a group of 14 Lebanese and Palestinian nationals killed in Syria.
Clashes with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades left two members of each community dead, the security official said.
Tensions in northern Lebanon have run high since at least 14 Sunni Muslim Lebanese and Palestinian fighters from the area were killed by Syrian security forces a week ago in a Syrian border town.
Fighters from northern Lebanon had long been suspected of entering neighbouring Syria, but the killing of the men reignited Tripoli’s long simmering tensions.
Syria’s conflict has not only stirred sectarian fighting in its own population, it has also revived sectarian clashes in Tripoli, whose communal makeup reflects that of Syria.
Majority Sunnis in the city support Syria’s mostly Sunni-led uprising, while Alawites, the Shia-linked minority sect to which al-Assad belongs, are generally supportive of the Syrian president.
Syrian state television aired graphic video of the dead Lebanese gunmen, their bloodied corpses riddled with bullet holes.
Families of the dead demonstrated last week to demand the return of the bodies, as clashes resumed in Tripoli.
An agreement was eventually reached between Syrian and Lebanese officials to transfer the bodies gradually, with the first three being delivered on Sunday.
Cars brought the bodies up to the northern Lebanese border, where security forces and local religious authorities came to receive them.
The Lebanese Higher Defence Council held a meeting on Sunday to discuss the fighting in Tripoli between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen districts.
The official Lebanese news agency said the army responded to sporadic rifle fire on late Saturday, without being able to stop the clashes.
The council reviewed the measures taken by the Lebanese Armed Forces to restore calm in the northern city.
The meeting was held in the presence of President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Miqati, as well as Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.