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 As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.