Tensions between Syria and Lebanon rage on
Article: Alec Salloum – News Writer
The raging and bloody civil war of Syria has recently spilled into neighboring Lebanon, resulting in 17 deaths and approximately 100 injuries. The northern city of Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest city, home to 500,000, and is only 85 kilometers from the nation’s capital Beirut.
The past few decades have resulted in troubled relations between Syria and Lebanon. Syria had previously been an occupying force in Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 in response to the Lebanese civil war, which started in 1975. One of the main cited causes of the civil war was tension between various denominations including Maronite Christians, Muslims, PLO-backed Palestinian refugees, Arab National groups and other groups. The war resulted in 120,000 casualties and to this day approximately 75,000 people remain displaced.
From the civil war, and the ensuing occupation, a group known as Hezbollah was formed. Hezbollah is a Shia Islamic multifaceted organization spanning politics, having attained seats in the Parliament and Cabinet of Lebanon, as well as a paramilitary group, which rivals the Lebanese army. In fact, Hezbollah has sparked several conflicts with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Force. Hezbollah has sided and pledged support, in the form of fighters and resources, to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government forces.
The spillover of Syrian conflict has manifested in the rebel forces attacking Hezbollah strongholds, as well as the Syrian government attacking rebel groups stationed in Lebanon. Aug. 3 of this year saw Syrian planes attacking Arsal, a border town that housed refugees and among them, rebels. The attack resulted in 9 reported deaths.
Since August 2013, the United Nations reported two million Syrians have been displaced and found refuge in nearby countries. Lebanon has taken in approximately 667,000 refugees, accounting for one in three displaced Syrians, which has accounted for a 13 per cent increase in the Lebanese population. Prior to August 2012’s surge of refugees, Lebanon had a population of 4.8 million.
[pullquote]“Since August 2013, the United Nations reported 2 million Syrians have been displaced and found refuge in nearby countries. Lebanon has taken in approximately 667,000 refugees, accounting for one in three displaced Syrians.” [/pullquote]
The current disputes have largely manifested in two neighborhoods in Tripoli, Jabal Mohsen and Bab el-Tabbaneh. Jabal Mohsen is predominantly pro-Assad, Alawite (a Shia sect) and has backed his regime and Hezbollah. Bab el-Tabbaneh is pro-rebel, majority Sunni, and is home to several Syrian refugees. Fighting between these two districts is nothing new. Since 2008, there have been nearly 20 instances of conflict, claiming 200 lives and wounding thousands. The violence is usually carried out along sectarian tracks and religious biases, and these attacks have seen Alawites, various Christian sects and Druze’s targeted.
The government of Lebanon has been unstable since the Syrian withdrawal of 2005. Most recently, in 2011, the government collapsed following a tribunal seeking to find those guilty for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This instability persists to this day with considerable social unrest amongst its population, though currently a Hezbollah party member is the acting Prime Minister, while the President is of the LAF.
Oct. 29 saw the LAF deployed to Tripoli in efforts to restore some order to the region. Since the deployment, at least one soldier has been hospitalized with severe injuries, following an attack by gunmen. Reports of sniper fire have persisted despite the military presence and have greatly restricted their mobility in the neighborhoods, stifling their progress. Regardless, arrests of at least three belligerents have occurred since LAF intervention.
Tripoli has historically been a powder keg of sectarian violence, reluctantly satiated by military intervention. Despite progress being slow, the LAF have made steps to ensure order is restored to the battle-scarred city.