BEIRUT (AP) — Hezbollah fighters and residents of the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek exchanged fire Saturday, leaving three dead and six wounded, security officials and the army said.
The officials said the shooting occurred around noon at a Hezbollah checkpoint in the city, a stronghold of the militant group. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said two Hezbollah militants were killed and two members of a local Sunni family were wounded.
Lebanon has been on edge as a result of the civil war in neighboring Syria, with many Lebanese divided between supporters of Presidents Bashar Assad's regime and the opposition.
Lebanese Sunni Muslims back the mostly Sunni rebel movement fighting to topple Assad. Shiites back Assad's regime that is dominated by members of the president's minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
"Tension is very high. The streets are empty," a Baalbek resident told The Associated Press by telephone. "I can hear automatic rifle fire."
The resident, who asked that his name not be made public for fear of reprisals, said armed Shiite tribesmen deployed in the area demanding that those who opened fire at the checkpoint be handed over to Lebanese authorities.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that the exchange of fire killed three people and wounded several others. Troops are carrying out raids in search of the gunmen, it added.
Hezbollah set up checkpoints in its strongholds after an Aug. 15 blast in Beirut's southern suburbs killed 27 people. Many resent the checkpoints.
The officials said Lebanese troops were trying to enter the area to separate the opposing sides.