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Deaths in Lebanon as early exit for Assad is played down

At least five people have died in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, as tensions in Syria spill over once again. Meanwhile, reports of any early exit for President Bashar Assad were played down by Damascus and Washington.

As well as the five fatalities in the northern port city, at least 43 people were also wounded since the fighting broke out on Monday evening, according to security and army officials.

Two people were reported killed in the mainly Sunni district of Bab Tabbaneh, with three killed in the adjacent and largely Alawite area of Jabal Mohsen.

The fighting has seen Sunni Muslims supportive of the rebels taking on members of the Alawite sect, to which Assad belongs.

Meanwhile, across Syria's northern frontier, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday that some 2,500 people had fled to Turkey, citing Turkish officials and Syrian opposition forces.

In a press conference that followed talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said the West was seeking an excuse to intervene, likening the focus on Syria's chemical weapons to that ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US-led forces.

"Direct military intervention in Syria is impossible," Jamil warned. "Whoever thinks about it... is heading towards a confrontation wider than Syria's borders," he told the conference.

'Nothing terribly new'

The United States downplayed suggestions in the media following the conference that Syria was open to discussing Assad's resignation.

A Sunni gunman takes aim during clashes that erupted on Syria Street, which divides the areas between Sunnis and Alawites

The fighting in Lebanon is particularly fierce in two districts of Tripoli

"We saw the reports of the press conference that the deputy prime minister gave," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a daily briefing. "Frankly, we didn't see anything terribly new there."

While the deputy premier was reported as saying negotiations could be all-embracing, there appeared to be no indication that Syria would discuss Assad's exit as a precondition to talks. Jamil had said that such a removal of Syria's leader would be "undemocratic."

The talks in Moscow came as Russia reiterated its position that there must not be any unilateral military intervention in Syria's civil war.

"There should be no interference from the outside," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow. "The only thing that foreign players should do is create conditions for the start of dialogue."

Lavrov was speaking a day after President Barack Obama said that US troops could take action if the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces.

rc/ai ( AFP, dpa, Reuters)