News / Middle East

Lebanon Moves To Avoid Syria War Spillover

Lebanese supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral in Beirut May 26, of a Hezbollah fighter who died fighting in the Syrian civil war.Lebanese supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral in Beirut May 26, of a Hezbollah fighter who died fighting in the Syrian civil war.
x
Lebanese supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral in Beirut May 26, of a Hezbollah fighter who died fighting in the Syrian civil war.
Lebanese supporters and relatives of Hezbollah members attend the funeral in Beirut May 26, of a Hezbollah fighter who died fighting in the Syrian civil war.
The military command issued a strong warning Friday that Lebanese should be “wary of plots” that could turn the nation into a battlefield like next door in Syria.
 
“In recent days, some groups have seemed determined to stoke security tensions against the backdrop of the political divisions in Lebanon over military developments in Syria,” the command said in an unusually blunt statement.
 
Military commanders have been “trying for several months to work firmly, determinedly and patiently to prevent Lebanon being turned into a battlefield for regional conflicts and to prevent any spillover of the events in Syria,” the command said.
 
The military then urged Lebanese “to express their political views on events in Lebanon and Syria by peaceful and democratic means, and not to be driven by groups wanting to use violence as a means to achieve their ends".
 
The warning came as the French government, through its ambassador, urged all Lebanese to abide by the self-avowed “dissociation policy” set out in 2012 by the nation’s key sectarian leaders. The policy was designed to keep Lebanon neutral in the Syrian civil war and aloof from the strife raging next door.

French Ambassador Patrice Paoli stressed to a delegation from the Maronite Christian community the need for the Lebanon to avoid getting entangled in the Syrian crisis.

The Lebanese government officially is neutral in Syria’s civil war, but the country’s militant Shia movement, Hezbollah, has become deeply involved in the fighting. Hezbollah is anxious to prevent the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime patron of the group and ally of its main paymaster and arms supplier, Iran.
 
Lebanon’s official neutrality is challenged
 
On Wednesday, as a result of Hezbollah’s increased military intervention, Syrian government forces were able to deal a sharp blow to mainly Sunni Muslim rebels by retaking the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanon frontier. Hezbollah fighters were considered key in the government victory.
 
But Lebanon’s Sunni leaders reacted with fury at Hezbollah’s actions and called for a jihad against the Shia movement.
 
A day before Qusair fell, General Selim Idriss, leader of the main rebel umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, warned that his fighters were prepared to take the conflict into Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah militiamen. Hezbollah, he said, was “invading” Syria and Lebanon was doing nothing to stop them.
 
Rocket attacks on Hezbollah villages in the Bekaa Valley this week suggests that Syrian rebels or their Lebanese supporters were making good on Idriss’ threat.
 
Prominent Lebanese are targeted
 
There are signs also that Syrian rebels or their Lebanese supporters intend to strike at prominent Lebanese figures who oppose the uprising against Assad: two Lebanese Sunni Sheikhs who are sympathetic to Hezbollah and Iran narrowly escaped assassination attempts this past week.
 
On June 3, gunmen targeted Sheikh Maher Hammoud as he left his home in Sidon. The would-be assassins unleashed a barrage of automatic gunfire at the pro-Assad sheikh and his bodyguards returned fire. Hammoud escaped unharmed and quipped later. “It seems that the assailants lack professionalism. Thank God for that.”

On the same day another imam, this time in east Lebanon near the border with Syria, was attacked by assailants who opened fire on the car of pro-Hezbollah Sunni Sheikh Ibrahim Braidi in the town of Qab Elias. Security sources said they suspect there’s a connection between the attacks and believe jihadists backing the Syrian rebellion may be responsible.
 
Political and religious leaders condemned the attacks on the Sunni sheikhs.
“Assaulting religious scholars ... is a flagrant violation aimed at igniting strife among the Lebanese,” Lebanon’s mufti, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said in a statement.

The government in Beirut has struggled for months to limit the fallout from the civil warfare in Syria. Above all, it wants avoid another Lebanese civil war like the 1975 to 1990 fighting that left more than 120,000 Lebanese dead.

The Lebanese Army has moved quickly in the past to put down any clashes between Sunni gunmen loyal to the Syrian rebels and pro-Assad Alawites or Shiites in the northern Lebanon.

Last October, the army managed speedily to impose order when sectarian clashes erupted in Tripoli and Beirut following the assassination of Lebanon’s security chief, Brig. Gen. Wissan al-Hassan. Many Lebanese – including the dead general’s aides -- suspect Hassan was killed on the orders of Assad and that Hezbollah may have played a role in the bombing.

Adding to the tensions are rocket attacks on Hezbollah villages in the Bekaa Valley and the expectation that Hezbollah will retaliate against Sunni villages that have been helping to supply Syrian rebels.

“If that happens, we are a few short steps away from things getting out of hand,” said a major in Lebanese military intelligence.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
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

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

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.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

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.
More