Lebanon gunmen fire at pro-Syria minister's convoy
TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Armed men opened fire on Friday in the north Lebanese city of Tripoli on the convoy of a pro-Damascus minister, wounding some of his bodyguards, a security official said.
Four of Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karameh's bodyguards were hit, said the official, who added that the gunmen were on their way to a sit-in organised by Lebanese Islamists bitterly opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria.
A fifth man, a passer-by, was also wounded, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The shooting came "while the minister was on his way in his convoy to join Friday prayers in a mosque in the city," added the official.
An AFP correspondent said one of the minister's vehicles went up in flames after the attack.
"I don't think I was personally targeted," Karameh told a Lebanese television channel shortly afterwards, adding that his attackers "did not know I would be passing."
But he said the attack "threatens Tripoli's stability and security."
Dominated until 2005 militarily and politically for 30 years by Damascus, Lebanon remains divided into pro- and anti-Assad camps.
Frequent sectarian clashes in Tripoli have pitted Sunni Muslims against members of Assad's minority Alawite group, who fear vengeance attacks should the regime in Damascus fall.
Gunmen have also frequently exchanged fire with regime troops across Lebanon's northern and eastern borders with Syria.
Tripoli's Islamists protested on Friday calling for the release of dozens of detainees held without charge since violence wracked the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in 2007, when the army waged an all-out campaign to uproot Islamist militants.
"The attack on Minister Karameh's convoy... is an attempt to sow strife in the city," Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a statement.
The army said in a statement it has "reinforced security measures, and started to seek out and arrest gunmen so they can be referred to the competent judicial authorities."