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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid