Syrian Conflict: The Spillover Effect in Lebanon (AMERICAN THINKER) By Khaled Nasir 06/02/12)
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There are clear indications that the Syrian internal conflict is now
spilling over into neighboring Lebanon. The clashes there between
Sunni pro- and anti-Syrian groups followed the shooting death of two
anti-Syrian clerics recently.
The violence is the first in Beirut since the conflict began in
neighboring Syria in March last year. Syrian and Lebanese politics
have been deeply intertwined throughout the history of the two states.
The Syrian conflict is now opening up wounds of the past in Lebanon.
The fighting in Beirut has raised fears of a repeat of the sectarian
clashes in 2008 that pitted Sunnis against Shi´ites and brought the
country close to civil war. The spillover effects have already
claimed the life of important political leaders. The cleric Sheikh
Ahmad Abdel-Wahid was shot dead at night by Lebanese troops when his
convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon as tensions
simmered after Sunnis attacked Alawites, who support Syrian President
Media reports and interviews with relatives of the 50 pilgrims from
Lebanon abducted by armed rebels in Syria have been airing. Female
pilgrims in the group were let go and arrived back in Lebanon. The
kidnap ordeal has further heightened tensions in Lebanon, which has
witnessed clashes between groups opposing and supporting Assad over
the last several days.
Syria, the dominant partner, had a large military presence in Lebanon
for 29 years, finally withdrawing soldiers in 2005 but maintaining a
strong influence. Political factions in Lebanon have often defined
themselves as pro- or anti-Syrian.
Many experts are fearing the worst, as Lebanon is a country with
history of bloodshed fueled by the sectarian conflict. The latest
bad blood between the religious sects accumulated in 2008, when the
political sphere of Lebanon changed as Hezb´allah began to dominate
in the Lebanese parliament, forming as they the pro-Syrian March 8
The spillover effect in Lebanon might have long-lasting implications
on the region. Lebanon was a flash point in the recent past. Given
the geographical location of Lebanon, the violence, if unchecked,
would also make others nervous. Israel battled Hezb´allah in 2006
when Israel entered Lebanon in order to end attacks from Hezb´allah,
backed by Syria.
The situation in Syria is not encouraging. More than 5,000 Syrians,
mostly women and children from the scene of a weekend massacre, have
been found without food or water by a joint team of the Red Cross and
Red Crescent. The international community has been vocal on the
massacre of the innocent civilians in cities in Syria, and the latest
form of protest comes in the form of Syrian diplomats being expelled
from countries across the globe.
Japan and Turkey yesterday joined allies around the world in
expelling Syrian diplomats and expressing revulsion at the
massacre. The USA is joining in the act, expelling Syria´s most
senior envoy in Washington over what it says is the Syrian
government´s responsibility for last week´s massacre in the village
of Houla. While President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces last
month agreed to the peace plan proposed by United Nations envoy Kofi
Annan, violence in the 14-month-old conflict is still continuing.
Russia and China, longstanding allies of Syria, still opposed
military intervention as the war drags on.
The chain of events suggests that the anti-Assad fighters, known as
the Free Syrian Army, are here to stay, though still not enough
strong to stop Assad´s forces. Clashes in the cities of Homs, Dara,
and Houla signify a level of violence massive with civilian
One possible action by the international community might include
greater support of the opposition within Syria. The level of
assistance could be extended openly to all opposition forces,
including sharing vital intelligence about regime security and
military formations headed for towns and cities. This could
drastically reduce the number of civilian casualties. Another
approach might be creating safe zones that could serve as staging
areas for the training and equipping of all aspects of the Syrian
opposition, including military assistance. With U.S. backing, both
Turkey and Jordan might agree on that, as Sunni and Kurdish areas of
Iraq could serve as future buffer zones as well.
As Kofi Annan reaches out to the Syrian regime, the violence
continues in the cities across Syria. According to a Britain-based
watchdog, more than 13,000 people have been killed, most of them
civilians, since the uprising against Assad´s regime erupted in March
last year. The future will be shaped by Shia-Sunni dynamics, the
elite Alawi minorities both in Syria and Lebanon, and the level of
support from Russia and China for the regime.
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