Zouk Mikayel, Lebanon: Relatively light clashes took place between Tripoli neighborhoods Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen today after a brutal night of fighting that included the firing of over 47 mortars.
Today, saw only occasional spats of sniper fire, machine gun fire, and the occasional mortar. Fighters in Bab al-Tabbaneh however said they are expecting heavy fighting to continue tonight.
The fighting this time around is intrinsically linked to the battle for Qusayr in neighboring Syria, say sources. Abu al-Baraa, a fighter stationed on the front line, said that "as long as Qusayr is surrounded, we have to deploy around Jabal Mohsen."
Abu al-Baraa gave the impression that what is happening in Tabbaneh is basically a direct retaliation to what is happening there. By surrounding the small population of Jabal Mohsen the Sunni fighters in Tabbaneh feel they are protecting their fellow Sunnis in Qusayr from being slaughtered by Hezbollah and the Syrian Army.
He added that between 60-70 fighters from Tripoli are in Syria now. Two of those are from his own brigade. Supposedly, a group of fighters from Tripoli tried to go through Tal Khalakh to make their way to Qusayr just the other day. "They couldn't make it," said Abu al-Baraa, there was too much fighting.
As we sat on the stairs of his building Abu al-Baraa showed us his Russian Kalashnikov, a recent purchase for $1500, he said. "You see these?" he asked, pointing to thin yellow bullets. "These are Syrian bullets. They're no good, just like the regime is no good."
To date, every fighter I've spoken with says they buy their own weapons and ammo. Abu al-Baraa admitted that Sheikh Salem al-Rafei occasionally distributes bullets but no arms.
Yesterday, Saad al-Masri, a respected militia leader and brother of the slain militia leader Khodr al-Masri, returned from Turkey where "he was on vacation," according to Abu Hasan, a deputy of Ziad Alloukeh.
Rumor has it that Masri and other militia leaders are receiving funding directly from foreign intelligence services. This is something I will investigate further...