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Beirut gunbattles leave 2 dead, Syria spillover feared

Street battles in Beirut during the night between groups for and against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime left two people dead, Lebanon's state-run news agency said on Monday.

The fighting, which also wounded 18 people, erupted after reports emerged that army troops had shot dead an anti-Syria Sunni cleric when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon on Sunday.

The cleric's killing followed a week of intermittent clashes that left 10 people dead in the northern port city of Tripoli between Sunnis hostile to the Syrian regime and Alawites who support Assad.

The fighting in Beirut raised fears of a repeat of sectarian clashes in 2008 that pitted Sunnis against Shiites and brought the country close to civil war.

The revolt in Syria has excacerbated a deep split between Lebanon's political parties where the opposition backs those leading the revolt against Assad while a ruling coalition led by the powerful Shiite Hezbollah supports the regime.

The opposition has accused Assad of seeking to sow chaos in Lebanon in order to relieve the pressure on his regime.

More than 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have died in Syria since an anti-regime revolt broke out in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

ram/jz

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