Worrying Signs from Lebanon

Jebel Muhsin (Background) and Bab al Tabbana (foreground) Districts of Tripoli, Lebanon (Credit: BBC News)

It seems events in Syria are once again spilling over into Lebanon. The recent fighting in Lebanon’s second city this week has seen at least 15 people dead, including a Sunni Cleric, in violence fuelled by the Syrian conflict. This latest round of violence, while not rare in Lebanon, is a worrying development in the affect of the Syrian conflict could have in Lebanon.

Tripoli, some 85km north of Beirut is home to both Sunni and Alawite enclaves, particularly around the adjacent areas of the Jebel Muhsin and Bab al Tabbana districts. Tensions between the two groups is long standing, dating back to when Syria, under Hafaz al Assad (Bashar al Assad’s father), entered the Lebanese civil war in 1975 and Alawites in Tripoli supported the Syrian presence.

While it is common for violence to flare up in Tripoli (for example a series of grenade attacks occurred in Bab al Tabbana in January 2011) and a series of fighting has been seen this year between the two groups (recently in May, 8 people were killed after 3 days of fighting), this latest round of violence is certainly worrying in the build up of sectarian tension in the country. Only 10 days ago, Sunni citizens from Gulf countries were advised to leave Lebanon due to an increased kidnapping threat in the country from Shi’a groups. Now a local Sunni Cleric, Sheikh Khaled al Barade, was shot and killed yesterday by a sniper in Tripoli.

These actions along with the fighting will do little to ease the tension in the city, indeed across the country. Despite the Lebanese army being deployed to the front line of the fighting (ironically named Syria Street) and a ceasefire being called for, the sectarian tension remains high. Indeed security sources said they are bracing themselves for more violence, stating “It is very likely that it will escalate this time”. The Tripoli violence is providing observers a snapshot of what could happen in Lebanon if the Syrian violence becomes more chaotic and sectarian, which is very worrying indeed.

J Robinson – Twitter: jprobinsons

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