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Middle east

Spreading violence fuels Lebanon's political crisis

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-10-22

Violence spread from the capital Beirut to the Lebanese city of Tripoli overnight on Monday, fuelling fears of new sectarian violence and a worsening political crisis after security chief Wissam al-Hassan was killed by a car bomb on Friday.

Lebanese troops and gunmen exchanged fire in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Monday, wounding five people, deepening a political crisis following the assassination of a senior intelligence official, security and medical sources said.

Four people were also killed, including a 9-year-old girl, and 12 wounded in clashes between gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli, the sources said.

The violence heightened fears that the civil war in neighbouring Syria could be spreading into Lebanon, upsetting its delicate political balance and threatening to usher in a new era of sectarian bloodshed between the country’s Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities.

Lebanon has been on edge since the popular uprising began in neighbouring Syria but tensions threatened to boil over after Wissam al-Hassan, an intelligence chief and senior Sunni figure opposed to the Syrian leadership, was assassinated in a car bombing on Friday.

“Al- Hassan’s death was a major blow to Sunni Muslims but the Syria uprising has emboldened their community in Lebanon recently,” said Lucy Fielder, FRANCE 24’s Beirut correspondent.

‘Sense of anger’

“We are seeing more and more armed groups. They are still a minority but there is a real sense of anger and a worry some groups will take matters into their own hands.”

“It does seem to be soon to speak about civil war; but with Lebanon’s history that thought is never far from people’s minds,” Fielder added.

Many politicians have accused Syria of being behind al-Hassan’s killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after Hassan’s funeral on Sunday.
Opposition leaders and their supporters want Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign, saying he is too close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah, which is part of Mikati’s government.

The clashes in Beirut on Monday morning took place on the edge of Tariq al-Jadida, a Sunni Muslim district that neighbours Shi’ite Muslim suburbs in the south of the capital.
Residents had earlier reported heavy overnight gunfire around Tariq al-Jadida between gunmen armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

In a later incident on Monday morning, a woman was killed and three people wounded by gunfire in the Alawite district. Tripoli has frequently been hit by clashes between Sunnis and Alawites sympathetic to different sides in the Syria war.

Blocked road to airport

Protesters overnight blocked roads in Beirut with burning tyres, including the highway to the airport.

The capital was noticeably quieter than normal on Monday. Many people stayed home for fear of violence and streets were free of the usual traffic chaos. Memories are still vivid here of the death and destruction of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.

Heavily-armed soldiers and police were out in force at street junctions and government buildings.

Opposition leaders have urged their supporters to refrain from any more violence.

“We want peace, the government should fall, but we want that in a peaceful way. I call on all those who are in the streets to pull back,” former prime minister Saad al-Hariri said on the Future Television channel on Sunday evening.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-10-22


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