News / Middle East

Lebanese Fear Syria Civil War Spreading

Lebanese protesters demonstrate in Beirut against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, January 12, 2013.
Lebanese protesters demonstrate in Beirut against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, January 12, 2013.
The Lebanese have been bitterly divided over the civil war in Syria since it started two years ago, but now they worry that the fighting next door will spread into their own country, upsetting its fragile ethnic and religious balance.

Above all Lebanese fear they will be dragged into the mayhem of neighboring Syria’s increasingly sectarian violence. Recent clashes between Lebanese army units and radical Islamists fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have only heightened their anxiety -- as has a huge influx of Syrian refugees.

The government in Beirut has struggled for months to try to limit the repercussions from Syria.

The biggest worry has been that violence will be sparked between the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah, which has been backing Assad, and the country’s Sunni Muslims, who support Sunnis in Syria fighting to oust Assad.

The latest alarm came from a recent clash in the town of Arsal near the Syrian border that left two Lebanese soldiers dead.
The incident between Lebanese army units and fighters affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, a Jihadist group that has emerged as a highly effective force within the Syrian rebellion, has prompted pledges of a crackdown from Lebanese army commanders.
“Any hand that aggresses the army will be cut off,” says army commander Jean Kahwagi. "We will pursue the attackers wherever they are,” he added.  At the high-profile funerals of the soldiers, distraught relatives and mourners called for revenge.

According to Gen. Khawaja, the clash in Arsal came after Islamist fighters fired on an army patrol trying to hunt down a wanted Jihadist leader. But Lebanese Sunnis in the Arsal area say the fighting was a consequence of increased friction between the army and local residents, most of whom are Sunnis.
Khaled Daher, a member of the Lebanese parliament and critic of the government, says the army targets Sunni towns like Arsal because “they support Syrian rebels” and help Syrian refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

Lebanese officials say they have seen an alarming inflow of al-Nusra fighters who use Lebanon as a base where they can re-supply themselves. Officials also report an increase in foreign Islamist fighters transiting the country on their way to fight in the Syrian conflict.

The Lebanese army is under pressure to maintain control.

Complex ties

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of sectarian ties and rivalries. Tensions are rising in the north of Lebanon and the army has had to step in more than half-a-dozen times to quash fighting in Tripoli between Lebanese Sunni gunmen loyal to the Syrian rebels and pro-Assad Alawites or Shiites.

Rival local leaders in Tripoli believe there is little chance to prevent further spillover from Syria’s civil war. They also say they are heavily involved in the Syrian conflict, supplying one side or the other with fighters, weapons and intelligence information.
Syrian war refugees are also causing stress in Lebanon. The refugee camp shown here on January 7, 2013, is near the eastern town of Marj.Syrian war refugees are also causing stress in Lebanon. The refugee camp shown here on January 7, 2013, is near the eastern town of Marj.
Syrian war refugees are also causing stress in Lebanon. The refugee camp shown here on January 7, 2013, is near the eastern town of Marj.
Syrian war refugees are also causing stress in Lebanon. The refugee camp shown here on January 7, 2013, is near the eastern town of Marj.
“We play the same role that Peshawar did in the 1980s for the mujahedeen,” says Sheik Shadi Jebara, a Salafi leader in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbinet, referring to the city in northwestern Pakistan that was used by mujahedeen rebels fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“The war in Syria is our war too,” he says. According to Sheik Shadi “more than 200 fighters” from Tripoli have crossed the border to fight Assad. He says the Tripoli’s Sunnis also have been supplying Syrian rebels with guns and ammunition and helping transport wounded rebel fighters to Tripoli for medical treatment.

For his part, Ali Mohammed Fadlallah, a spokesman in Tripoli for the predominantly Alawi Arab Democratic Party, says sectarian tensions have been inflamed by the “increasing presence of foreign Jihadists and Salafists in Lebanon.” He says the rebel Free Syrian Army has been infiltrating northern Lebanon. “The FSA has the potential to grow here and become more influential and destructive.”

The worst clashes in northern Lebanon occurred last autumn following the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wesson al-Hassan, the Lebanese security chief killed in a Beirut car bombing that many Lebanese suspect was ordered by Assad.

Earlier this month, a Lebanese judge issued an arrest warrant for one of President Assad’s top intelligence officials, accusing him of involvement in a bombing plot in Lebanon that was exposed by al-Hassan last August.

With sectarian tensions rising across Lebanon, former prime minister Sad Hariri has accused the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati of making the security situation worse. Hariri says the government hasn’t done enough to seal the country’s borders with Syria to prevent arms smuggling and to prevent gunmen crossing back and forth.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, has increased its support of Assad and mounted more excursions across the border to fight Syrian rebels.

“The mood is fatalistic,” says a former government adviser. “We are pretty sure we're going to get drawn further in but we don’t know when or how.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: JKF from: Ottawa
February 13, 2013 9:19 PM
In my view = The situation for Sunni Muslims in Lebanon will continue to get worse. If Assad stays in power, which is extremely unlikely, he will continue to persecute and reduce the influence of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon; after all it was Syria's previous Assad, that armed and militarily assisted the destruction of entire Sunni Muslim communities in Lebanon, through his (Syrian invasion of Lebanon) and Shia Hezbollah proxi forces. When current Assad is gone from Syria, Hezbollah will inherit most, if not all, the armaments of Assad; thus it will be a far more powerful force, than its ever been,it will be able to destroy the remaining Sunni communities in Lebanon; by essentially ethnically cleansing them and pushing them into Syria; thus Lebanon may become a majority Shia state. The only thing that can save the Sunni Muslims, in Lebanon, is if they fully arm themselves, and prevent the transfer of weapons from Syria into Lebanon. If the Hezbollah organization continues its criminal work in Syria, there is no real possibility that they will be able to just withdraw from Syria once Assad is gone; they have too much Sunni blood on their hands. The incorrect policy of the EU, to continue to not list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, will just ensure that they continue to have resources to be involved in the massacres of Sunni Muslims in Syria; such criminal work will only result in massive retribution from the global jihadis, who are allready trying to defend Sunni Muslims from the Assad/Hezbollah onslaught. The crimes by Hezbollah against Syrian Sunni civilians will not go un-noticed, given the magnitude of the slaughter, for sure. The balance of power in Lebanon will change. Even the experts are starting to see the picture, and the way it will develop. The EU is helping to fuel this conflict, and its spread into Lebanon by indirectly supporting Hezbollah.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs