At least eight people have been killed in clashes between rival pro- and anti-Damascus gunmen in the city of Tripoli, security sources said on Wednesday, testing Lebanon's fragile security situation.
TRIPOLI- Two people died in the latest violence after a bloody day which saw six people killed in street battles between gunmen from Sunni and Alawite groups, whose rival districts are symbolically divided by a thoroughfare called Syria Street.
The northern port city of Tripoli was tense on Wednesday, with armed men driving through the city and shooting rounds of live fire into the air.
The fighting has rattled the already fragile security situation in Lebanon, which lived under three decades of Syrian domination and remains deeply divided between supporters and opponents of the Damascus government.
The dead included a 13-year-old boy, while another 75 people have been wounded, including a boy of six who was paralysed by a gunshot wound and 15 soldiers, security sources said.
The fighting first erupted late Monday in Tripoli, home to a Sunni community hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the leader belongs.
The violence in Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, saw machineguns and anti-tank rockets fired.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati called the army and security forces to "do what they can to stop this absurd battle." The military said soldiers were "chasing gunmen and have seized a quantity of guns, bombs and ammunition."
Exchanges of fire on Monday between Bab el-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen sparked the latest violence.
"We have repeatedly warned against being drawn into this blaze that has spread around Lebanon," Mikati said of the anti-Assad armed revolt in Syria since March 2011. "But it is clear several parties wanted to push Lebanon into the conflict."
Fires have blazed in several buildings of the rival neighbourhoods, where civilians have evacuated their homes, an AFP correspondent said.
"My family and I have left our house in Bab al-Tebbaneh ... But I don't have the money to leave for good. It's unfortunate this area will always be an open playing field for political struggles," said taxi driver Abu Khodr Sharbini.
Fighters in Bab al-Tebbaneh charge the Syrian regime lit the spark for this latest round of clashes. "They do this to cover up for their crimes in Syria," a fighter told AFP.
But Ali Fidda, a local Alawite official from Jabal Mohsen, said his side was only defending itself in the predominantly Sunni city. "We understand there are differences ... But we are prepared to defend ourselves if we have to."
The latest unrest follows a wave of tit-for-tat kidnappings of Lebanese citizens in Syria and Syrians in Lebanon.
Last week, an armed Lebanese Shiite clan claimed it had kidnapped around 20 Syrians in retaliation for the abduction of a family member by a Syrian rebel group, which accused him of being a sniper with the Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, considered Lebanon's most powerful military force, has denied any connection with the clan member or the kidnappings.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council has accused authorities of failing to act over the attacks and implicitly blamed Hezbollah which heads a ruling coalition in Lebanon.