Lebanon's 'Black Sunday' killings raise sectarian tensions
The Lebanese Army, which many credit with holding together the fragile nation, is under siege after firing on a protest last month.
Ali Hayek clutched the photograph of his teenage son, Mahmoud, and heaved a deep sigh. "One minute he was with me and his mother was preparing his supper. Five minutes later he was shot dead in the street."Skip to next paragraph
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The computer student was one of seven people killed Jan. 27 when Lebanese troops fired on a crowd of Shiite antigovernment demonstrators protesting power cuts and rising bread prices.
The events of that day, now called "Black Sunday," have spurred intense accusations and recriminations from rival political factions, further souring already strained sectarian tensions in Beirut and stoking worries of more violence to come.
It has also placed the Lebanese Army on the defensive as it struggles to maintain its neutrality, even as its soldiers in recent days have come under rifle fire and grenade attack, apparent reprisals for last month's deaths.
The Army is the one state institution to have remained neutral in Lebanon's worsening political crisis. Many Lebanese believe that the military alone is preventing the country from sliding into chaos, and worry about the consequences of the Army disintegrating along political lines.
"Political quarreling is something, but attacking and disfiguring the Army is something else," says Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druze community and outspoken critic of the Shiite Hezbollah, which spearheads the opposition to the Western-backed government in Beirut.
Under pressure from angry Shiite leaders, the military is investigating the circumstances behind the shooting, and so far has arrested more than 20 soldiers and civilians. What remains unclear is who opened fire first – the Army, Shiite protesters, unknown agent provocateurs, or Christian gunmen from the Lebanese Forces Party.
Gen. Michel Suleiman, the commander of the Lebanese Army, has been touted as a compromise candidate for the presidency, which has remained vacant since November. However, some analysts say that the pro-Syrian opposition no longer supports General Suleiman's candidacy and are behind the drive to discredit him and the Army.
"It was a trap laid for the Army. It's an attempt to kill Suleiman's chances of being president and to sap the morale of the Army," says Oussama Safa, general director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.
Other analysts suggest that the deadly outcome of the demonstration lay only in the volatile mix of angry protesters in a highly charged environment.