Lebanese Army soldiers patrol the Sunni Musli
Lebanese Army soldiers patrol the Sunni MusliReuters

Sectarian clashes linked to the 21-month conflict in Syria killed six people and wounded 40 in neighboring Lebanon on Sunday, a security official said, according to AFP.

The latest fighting in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni Muslims and Alawite co-religionists of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came amid growing international concern about the potential for neighboring countries to be dragged into the conflict.

Sunni residents of the port city's Bab al-Tebbaneh district exchanged machinegun and rocket fire with Alawite residents of the neighboring Jabal Mohsen district, leaving three members of each community dead, the security official told AFP.

The fighting, which erupted before dawn, broke a tense calm that had held since the army deployed troops between the two impoverished neighborhoods early on Friday.

The clashes rocked Tripoli's rival neighborhoods intermittently throughout the day, the security official said, adding that fighting was still taking place "off and on" in the afternoon.

The latest deaths brought the toll from fighting in the city since Tuesday to 19, including two children.

Longstanding tensions in Tripoli escalated when 22 Sunnis from the Tripoli area who had crossed into Syria to join the armed rebellion against Assad's rule were ambushed by troops in the town of Tal Kalakh on November 30.

Damascus later agreed to repatriate the bodies at the request of the Lebanese foreign ministry, and on Sunday the corpses of three of the slain fighters were received at the Arida border crossing, a security source told AFP.

Guerrilla fighters from Lebanon's Hizbullah terrorist organization are fighting in Syria's civil war together with loyalists for President Bashar al-Assad. Hizbullah is a long-time ally of both Assad and the regime in Iran, which has sent some of its Revolutionary Guards to assist Assad as well.

Meanwhile in Syria, radical Islamist rebels on Sunday seized large swathes of a Syrian military base west of Aleppo, as they consolidated their control over territory in the north near the Turkish border.

Fighters hoisted a trademark black jihadist flag over one of the buildings they captured.

The report of the takeover came hours after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad said that Syrian rebels had gained control of a toxic chlorine factory east of Aleppo.

However, the spokesman who issued the statement was sacked within hours for making statements that “did not reflect government policy,” according to Beirut-based Al-Manar TV, linked to Hizbullah terrorists.

As well, the LondonSunday Times reported IDF Special Forces are operating inside Syria to track chemical weapons. The Israeli government has not commented on the report.

If evidence mounts that Assad already has used chemical weapons against rebels, the United States and Israel might coordinate to carry out a ground invasion, according to the London newspaper.