Don't Take The Bait, Lebanon

The February assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister backfired on those trying to silence that country's political opposition and preserve Syria's dominance there. Now Syria is being forced to start withdrawing its troops.

It appears, however, that another violent campaign - a series of three bombings in eight days - is being waged to keep Syria involved. But like the assassination, it, too, can serve to strengthen the will for a democracy free of Damascus's control.

Both Syria and the current Syrian-friendly Lebanese government deny responsibility for the assassination and these recent deadly bombings, which have been set in commercial Christian districts in Beirut suburbs.

But it's hard to imagine any motive other than to fuel the sectarian violence that led to Lebanon's destructive 1975-90 civil war, which cost nearly 150,000 lives. If the perpetrators can rekindle old feuds, they will be in a position to say: "Syria, we still need you. Don't leave." Syria maintains it's in Lebanon to guarantee security.

Lebanon is at a precarious point. The prime minister says he'll step down, and between that and the bombing violence, parliamentary elections due in May could be delayed.

So far, the opposition isn't being goaded into reacting to the bombings. It's trying to calm fears of a return to civil war. "Our unity is stronger than your explosions," read a banner at a demonstration by Christian and Muslim women in Beirut on Monday.

Lebanese seem to have learned from sectarian violence, and perhaps from Iraq, as well, where Sunni terrorist bombings have failed to ignite a broad Sunni-Shiite conflict. In fact, Shiites there are reaching out to Sunnis to form a new government. Perhaps in Lebanon, the secular nature of democracy is sinking in.

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