News / Middle East

Lebanon Fights for Calm as Syria War Rages

A memorial poster of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, who was assassinated Friday, hangs near the spot Friday's car bomb attack that killed Al-Hassan, in the Achrafiye district of Beirut, Lebanon, October 23, 2012.
A memorial poster of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, who was assassinated Friday, hangs near the spot Friday's car bomb attack that killed Al-Hassan, in the Achrafiye district of Beirut, Lebanon, October 23, 2012.
Elizabeth Arrott
Lebanese politicians and their allies in the West are urging calm after the killing of an intelligence chief set off sectarian violence and fears the nation could be further dragged into the conflict in neighboring Syria.  Some political observers believe despite the tensions, Lebanon should be able to weather the current storm.

The killing of Wissam al Hassan last Friday threatened to unleash the kind of religious divides that Lebanon has known only too well, and that the increasingly sectarian war next door in Syria have made worse.

A Sunni Muslim, al Hassan was seen as an effective challenge to the meddling influence of Syria's largely Alawite government. An investigation into the bombing that took his life is ongoing, but many on the anti-Syrian side were quick to suspect Damascus, or its Lebanese Shi'ite ally, Hezbollah.

Angry youths took to the streets in violent protest over the killing.

Syria's war has tested the fragile make-up of multi-confessional Lebanese politics, pitting the pro-Syrian government of the March 8 Movement against the anti-Syrian opposition of the March 14 coalition.

On a street level, that translates roughly as Shi'ite versus Sunni.  

"There are spontaneous outbursts of violence," said Hilal Khashan, who teaches politics at the American University of Beirut. "There is a great deal of frustration among Lebanese Sunnis, but the Lebanese Army is clamping down."

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, says that while the Syrian conflict has made the situation in Lebanon more tense, battle lines between supporters and opponents of Syrian influence stretch far back, to unsolved assassinations of the last decade and the near 30-year occupation of Lebanon by its neighbor.

But Salem believes the bombing, in which Damascus denies involvement, may not have wider repercussions.

“I think if it were Syria, the objective was not to destabilize Lebanon," he said. "The objective was simply to remove a very effective security chief in Lebanon who was rather actually anti-Syrian, was very close to the anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon and who had many investigations and arrests against Syrian interests in Lebanon.”

Moreover, he notes, Lebanon's current Syria-friendly, Hezbollah-dominated government suits the needs of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Still, the potential for division and a possible political vacuum prompted Lebanon's allies to urge calm.

“I encourage all political leaders to work towards constructive solutions to the main challenges that face Lebanon today," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited Beirut Tuesday. "At such times, the importance of robust state institutions that continue to ensure security and provide services cannot be understated.”

But instability lingers, fueled by a reversal of U.S. and European officials' initial calls for political continuity after the bombing, even as their allies in Lebanon were calling for the government to step down.

Western officials now back the idea of a possible phased transition.

While Lebanon's crisis remains far from over, some, like the Carnegie Center's Salem, find it remarkable the country hasn't been dragged further than it has into Syria's war.  He says while some Sunni Lebanese do support Sunni Syrian rebels, and Hezbollah aids Syria's government, involvement is limited.

"It has come as a welcome surprise that Lebanon has been able to maintain its stability for so long.  And the past weekend was a real challenge to the stability, but I think Lebanon has passed that challenge," he said.

But that remains to be seen. Tensions continue to run high, for despite Lebanese wishes, they remain in the shadow of Syria and its continuing conflict.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Salim Muhamad from: Beirut, Lebanon.
October 24, 2012 8:29 PM
Lebanon has ceased to be a State since Hezbollah subverted its institutions and marginalized its arm forces... just look at the Lebanese "Army" full of riffraff hooligans and Arab "playboys" (homosexuals)...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.