TRIPOLI — A senior official of a Lebanese party which backs the Syrian regime was gunned down Thursday in the northern city of Tripoli, sparking deadly clashes, security officials said.

“Masked gunmen opened fire at 7:00 a.m. on Abdelrahman Diab,” an Alawite official in the Arab Democratic Party, as he drove through Tripoli, a hotspot of violence between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, an official told AFP.

He said hooded gunmen on a motorbike carried out the assassination in a Sunni neighbourhood, shooting Diab in the head and stomach.

A party official confirmed the killing and said Diab was in charge of “military” affairs.

As news of the attack spread, one person was killed and eight wounded in clashes between Alawites and Sunnis in the Bab al-Tebbaneh district of the port city, closing local schools and shops, security sources said.

Since 2008, even before the outbreak of war in nearby Syria, more than 200 people have died in fighting between Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen district, who hail from the same religious sect as Assad, and Sunnis in neighbouring Bab al-Tebbaneh.

The target of Thursday’s attack, Diab, in his 50s, is the father of Youssef Diab, who has been detained by Lebanese authorities on suspicion of involvement in twin bombings of a Tripoli mosque in August that killed 45 people.

The violence in Tripoli came a day after two suicide car bombs exploded near an Iranian cultural center in Beirut, killing six people.

The attack was claimed by a jihadist group that said it was targeting the Shiite militant movement Hezbollah and Iran, a key ally of the Assad regime.

Lebanon is bitterly divided over the war in its larger neighbor Syria, with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah having sent fighters to bolster Assad’s troops while Sunnis have backed the Sunni-led rebellion.

The bombings and the violence in Tripoli highlight the challenges facing Lebanon’s new government, formed at the weekend after a 10-month political vacuum.