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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs