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Two members of Lebanese security forces killed in armed clashes

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Two members of the Lebanese Security Forces were killed in an exchange of gunfire with militants in the north of the country late on Saturday, the army said.

They were killed when militants opened fire on an army checkpoint in the northwest area of Araman, the army said on Sunday. One militant was killed, while several fled. 

In a separate incident on Saturday, Lebanese security forces killed at least six militants during a heavy exchange of fire with an armed group in northeast Lebanon, close to the Syrian border, security sources said.

Three members of the Lebanese security forces were wounded in the clash, which began after Lebanese forces raided a house in the Wadi Khaled area, where the group that was suspected of planning attacks was holed up, the sources said.

Security incidents across the country have increased in recent weeks, as the country has been pushed to breaking point by a financial meltdown and a political vacuum following the resignation of the caretaker government over an Aug. 4 port blast, which left nearly 200 people dead.

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab strongly condemned the attacks in a statement on Sunday, and called for the feuding political blocs to rapidly form a new government capable of addressing Lebanon’s myriad problems. 

The country is on edge amid fears violence could escalate and compound the country’s crises.

Sources told Reuters that the group in Wadi Khaled included Syrians and Lebanese, adding that the scale of the clash, in which militants fired rocket-propelled grenades, prompted the Lebanese army to cordon off the area.

The sources said the group included people linked to the militant Khaled al-Talawi who was killed this month in a shootout with security forces. 

Talawi was described as a former member of Islamic State and leader of a cell behind the killing in August of three people in north Lebanon.

Meanwhile,

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric said on Sunday the nation faced “multiple dangers” that would be hard to weather without a government, speaking after the prime minister-designate quit and dealt a blow to France’s bid to lift the country out of crisis.

Muslim religious figures also said Lebanese needed to unite following Mustapha Adib’s decision to step down on Saturday after his efforts to form a cabinet hit a roadblock over ministerial appointments in the sectarian system.

It leaves Lebanon, with its arrangement of sharing power between Muslims and Christians, rudderless as it faces its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. 

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had pressed Lebanon’s fractious politicians to reach a consensus over naming Adib on Aug. 31, will speak about the crisis later on Sunday.

Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, said Adib’s resignation had “disappointed citizens, especially the youth, who were betting on the start of change in the political class”.

Many top politicians, both Christian and Muslim, have held sway for years or even decades. Some are former warlords.

Rai said Lebanon now had to navigate “multiple dangers” without a government at the helm.

Rai’s comments were echoed on the streets of Beirut, where mass protests erupted in 2019 as years of mismanagement, corruption and mounting debts finally led to economic collapse.

“We need new people. We need new blood,” said Hassan Amer, 24, serving coffee at a roadside cafe in the capital, which was hammered by a huge port blast on Aug. 4 that killed almost 200 people. 

Frustration at Adib’s failure to form a government was voiced by many across religious communities.

A senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, said it was a “disaster” that Adib had resigned and called for national unity, state news agency reported.

“We don’t want sectarian or confessional talk,” Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim religious leader, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, was quoted by broadcasters as saying.

He said Lebanon’s communities needed to show “understanding and balance” to face the major challenges ahead. 

The cabinet formation effort stumbled after Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, demanded they name several ministers, including finance, a key role as the nation draws up a rescue plan.

Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister and leading Sunni politician, said he would not be involved in naming any new premier and that the French plan was “the last and only opportunity to halt Lebanon’s collapse”.

A French roadmap lays out a reform programme for a new government to help trigger billions of dollars of international aid.

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