News / Middle East

Tensions in Tripoli, Lebanon Mirror Those in Syria

Lebanese Soldiers patrol Syria street (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
Lebanese Soldiers patrol Syria street (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
Clashes are intensifying on the aptly named Syria Street in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.  The clashes between  Sunni Muslims, who back the rebels in the civil war raging in next-door in Syria, and Lebanese Alawite Muslims, who support their co-religionist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
 
There have been more than 20 serious clashes recently between Alawites perched on a hill overlooking the Sunnis. Five people have been killed and more than 50 wounded in the last five days in the fighting. The clashes on January 21 following the bombing in Beirut were particularly fierce. There are no signs that the warring cheek-by-jowl communities will tire and cease their episodic and prolonged confrontations, clashes that are adding to sectarian tensions roiling Lebanon. 

Old feuds renewed
 
Syria’s sectarian civil war has aggravated the old feud between the communities.

“Lebanon is deeply intertwined with what is happening in Syria and if the Geneva talks reach a final resolution where Bashar al-Assad leaves and the whole regime leaves, then we will definitely have no more problems,” says Abu al-Bara, a local Sheikh who commands a group of 40 Sunni fighters.

The father of five is married to a Syrian. That is not unusual -- many Sunni and Alawites here are related to Syrians or marry them.
 
The fighting between the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, where Sunni residents oppose the embattled Syrian leader, raged this week despite a heavy Lebanese army presence. The sealing off major roads and the mounting of checkpoints between the adjacent neighborhoods doesn’t deter fighting, although a military intelligence officer told VOA that it “probably contains it.”
 
The two communities have had a long history of conflict stretching back to the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War when they took opposing sides in the conflict. And Abu al-Bara, a short but muscular man with a close-cropped salt-and-pepper beard, says when Lebanon’s 15-year-civil war ended “relationships (between the two communities) started coming back normally.”  

Abu al-Bara (photo courtesy of Jamie Dettmer)Abu al-Bara (photo courtesy of Jamie Dettmer)
x
Abu al-Bara (photo courtesy of Jamie Dettmer)
Abu al-Bara (photo courtesy of Jamie Dettmer)
But he says since August last year when two Sunni mosques in Tripoli were bombed on the same day leaving 42 dead and hundreds wounded “there have been no relations at all and if we know someone of us has contacts with them that person will have trouble,” he says ominously. 

Attempts to contain the violence
 
The government in Beirut has struggled for months to try to limit the repercussions from the vicious warfare raging in Syria and to avoid that conflict reviving the Lebanese civil war —a crisis that left 120,000 Lebanese dead and a quarter of the population wounded.
 
In many ways Tripoli acts as a barometer as to how well the Lebanese government is doing and the flare-ups normally tie in with events in Syria or some sectarian bombing or fighting elsewhere in Lebanon. In October 2012, the army managed speedily to impose order when sectarian clashes in Tripoli erupted following the assassination in Beirut of Lebanese security boss Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan.
 
And in December 2012 there was another severe uptick of violence in Tripoli when four days of fighting were triggered after 21 Lebanese Salafists from the militant group Fatah al-Islam—a group linked with al-Qaida—were killed in an ambush by Syrian army units in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh near Homs. The Lebanese Salafists were on their way to joining a rebel unit in Syria.
 
In a report last month the NGO Human Rights Watch accused the Lebanese authorities of being weak in response to the fighting in Tripoli, arguing they should “take all feasible steps to protect Tripoli residents by confiscating weapons that have been used to kill residents such as mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic weapons, arresting and prosecuting gunmen, and maintaining an active security presence in all communities.”
 
But with Lebanon adrift with a fragile caretaker government and politicians squabbling over the formation of a replacement, tougher action beyond trying to contain the fighting seems unlikely.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid