Lebanon Gunbattles Spread to Tripoli

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Pro-government Sunni Muslim gunmen fought militiamen allied to Hezbollah in the northern city of Tripoli on Monday, in further violence that has already dismantled the balance of power in Lebanon.

The upheaval, which began when Hezbollah and its allies overran the strongholds of their Sunni political foes in Beirut last week, has recalled memories of the 1975-90 civil war.

Six people were wounded in sporadic gunbattles between Sunni fighters in Tripoli's Bab Tebbaneh area and pro-Hezbollah Alawites in neighboring Jebel Mohsen, security sources said.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas and their pro-Syrian allies have swept through Beirut and hills to the east in a series of dramatic victories since May 7, defeating loyalists of the U.S.-backed government before handing their conquests to the Lebanese army, which has stayed out of the fighting.

At least 36 people were killed on Sunday in fighting between Hezbollah and its pro-government Druze opponents east of Beirut, bringing the overall toll to 81 dead and about 250 wounded.

Hezbollah's success has dealt a severe blow to the ruling Sunni-led coalition and its main patron, the United States, which has cast Lebanon as a fragile democracy endangered by the ambitions of Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers.

So far such Western and Saudi support has done nothing to deter Hezbollah from exposing the military weakness of its foes, such as Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri and Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, whose mountain fiefdom was attacked on Sunday.