Will Syria's fires singe Lebanon?
Deadly sectarian clashes near the Syrian border in northern Lebanon have sparked concern that Syria's turmoil is spilling over to its neighbor.
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Mr. Eid accuses leading Sunni politicians and clerics in Tripoli of fomenting anti-Alawite sentiment and distributing weapons to be used in street battles. He said that the Sunnis have been provoking the Alawites for months by firing occasional rocket-propelled grenades into Jabal Mohsen.Skip to next paragraph
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“If I had wanted to retaliate to what they have been doing, we would have had a war four months ago,” says Eid.
Days after the clashes, few people are on the streets other than Lebanese soldiers, underlining worries that fighting could quickly resume. A mosque with fire-blackened walls and the sides of white-washed apartment blocks riddled with fresh bullet holes testified to the intensity of the fighting, however.
“It’s not over yet. There is fire beneath the ashes,” says Yussef Nasri, a Sunni resident of Qobbe. “This situation will only be resolved when the Syrian regime collapses and all weapons in Lebanon are removed from private hands and from Hezbollah’s hands.”
Why Syria intervened to help form Lebanese government
The outbreak of deadly violence in Tripoli overshadowed a key victory for Lebanon that came just days earlier: the formation of a new government after five months of intense bickering.
The breakthrough came, according to analysts, when Syria realized that it was losing the sympathy of even its close regional allies, namely Qatar and Turkey. In response, the Syrian leadership stepped in to ensure that Lebanon's new government, at least, would be a friendly neighbor.
The new government is headed by Najib Mikati, a Sunni billionaire businessman from Tripoli, who is seen as a political moderate. He presides over a mix of apolitical technocrats and politicians affiliated with the Syria-backed March 8 parliamentary coalition. But the Western- and Saudi-backed March 14 bloc, which was ousted from power in January, says it will mount a robust opposition to the Mikati cabinet.
Vitriol in Lebanon mirrors Syria's rising confrontation
The political vitriol already has increased since the government was formed, mirroring the intensifying confrontation between the Syrian regime and the opposition protest movement. Mouein Merhebi, a Sunni lawmaker from the northern Akkar district, recently accused Hezbollah of deploying 130mm artillery guns in the rugged and remote hills south west of Shiite-populated Hermel in the northern Bekaa Valley.
“Hezbollah says it is a resistance against Israel. But Israel is far to the south out of range of these guns, so why do they have them there?” he asks, indicating that they could be used against the adjacent Sunni areas of Dinnieh and Akkar to the west of Hermel.
Hezbollah dismissed the claim as “fabricated and ridiculous.”
Take a drive along the remote trails winding through the ochre-hued hills of Hermel studded with dark green juniper trees and no artillery guns are to be seen. If they exist, they are well hidden. But like all politically charged accusations and counter-claims in Lebanon, truth lies in the eye of the beholder.
“Of course they have artillery in the hills over there. It’s well known,” says a Sunni farmer indicating the nearby mountain ridge that separates the Sunni district of Dinnieh from the Shiite area of Hermel. But he admits he has never seen the guns.
On the Shiite-populated side of the ridge, local farmers dismiss the claims and accuse Mr. Merhebi, the lawmaker, of stirring sectarian tensions.
Meanwhile, Eid, the Alawite leader, speaking in his bunker-like office in Jabal Mohsen, says that his community – along with the Alawite-dominated regime in Damascus – will fight “to the last drop of blood.”
“This is Lebanon. Without fighting, Lebanon is not a nice place,” he says with a chuckle. “Welcome to Lebanon.”