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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs