TRIPOLI, Lebanon — The Lebanese government authorized the army on Monday to take control of the northern city of Tripoli for six months after three days of sectarian clashes, a decision meant to allay fears that fighting in the nation’s second-largest city was spiraling out of control.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati made the announcement after a security meeting at the presidential palace, saying the army has been empowered to take necessary measures to keep the peace.
The army, he added, would carry out patrols and implement arrest warrants issued for fugitives in the city.
Security officials say 12 people were killed and more than 100 people were wounded in Tripoli since Saturday, when the latest round of violence erupted. Sectarian clashes linked to the war in neighboring Syria often flare there between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The fighting is concentrated in two impoverished rival neighborhoods in the port city. The Bab Tabbaneh district is largely Sunni Muslim, as are most of the Syrian rebels fighting against Assad’s rule. Residents of Jabal Mohsen, a neighborhood on a hill, are mostly from Assad’s Alawite sect.
But the fighting in the past few days has taken a more ominous turn, spreading to other parts of the city as snipers took positions on rooftops and gun battles and rocket fire raged.
Fighting began Saturday when Sunni gunmen shot a man whose brother leads an Alawite militia, sparking gun battles that trapped children in schools and forced traders to flee their shops.
Fighters used rocket-propelled grenades to target rivals in the crowded neighborhoods. On Monday, schools, banks, and other businesses were mostly shuttered and streets deserted amid occasional sounds of gunfire.
Also Monday, the Israeli military said its troops came under attack from across the Syrian border and fired back in retaliation.
The military said a mortar round landed on the Israeli side of the frontier and gunfire targeted an Israeli patrol. There were no injuries on the Israeli side. The troops returned fire toward their attackers in Syria.
Gunfire and mortar rounds from Syria have periodically hit inside the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israel thinks most of the gunfire is errant spillover from the Syrian civil war. But in some cases, it has accused forces in Syria of intentionally firing into the Golan.
Israel has generally kept its distance from the civil war, saying it has no interest getting dragged into a conflict where nearly all factions involved are hostile to Israel.
In Syria on Monday, fighting continued for control of Maaloula, an ancient, progovernment Christian village about 40 miles northeast of Damascus.
The government said six nuns were trapped in Maaloula after Al Qaeda-linked rebels seized large swaths of the area. Syrian army tanks were positioned around it as the fighting sent smoke over the scenic village, nestled into hillsides.