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Inside Story
Is Syria's conflict being fought in Lebanon?
After gun battles left 15 dead in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, we ask if Syria's conflict has seeped across the border.
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2012 06:49

Around 15 people have been killed and more than 40 others injured in recent fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli - a large city that sits on a very porous border just 130km from the Syrian capital Damascus.

"[There is] chaos on the streets and you have children carrying guns, you have all kinds of foreigners on Lebanese soil. We have to question if we still have the sovereignty of Lebanon, [when] you have the Free Syrian Army still there, thousands of them fighting in Tripoli."

- Kamel Wazne, a political analyst

A ceasefire is now in place and although there are no armed groups on the streets, the guns and fighters have not gone away.

The violence seems to have mirrored the fighting in Syria, with clashes between pro-Assad Alawites and anti-Assad Sunnis.

It is a three-decade-old conflict that has been made worse by the uprising across the border in Syria. For months now, there have been fears that the turmoil in Syria could destabilise Lebanon.

But there are other factors at play as well; the densely populated city has high levels of poverty and the districts of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al Tabbaneh - the main sites of the recent fighting - are the most deprived. And the people in the northern region of Lebanon remain marginalised, with the state having done very little to develop the area.

"I think that what is happening in Tripoli is the latest phase of a Syrian attack against Lebanon. It's just an extension of the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against its own people."

- Saleh El Machnouk, a political analyst

"Every month or so the clashes erupt .... No one knows how the violence starts and how it ends. It may be quiet now but in a few days there will be more fighting. Politicians want to settle scores," Abu Ahmed, a resident of Bab al Tabbaneh, told Al Jazeera

Disarming any Lebanese faction would require a political decision and a consensus among divided politicians.

Najib Mikati, the Lebanese prime minister, said: "The Lebanese army and internal security forces need to take all measures to stop the clashes in the city of Tripoli, without discrimination."

For now there is an uneasy calm, but how long is it going to last and what is fuelling the violence in Lebanon?

Inside Story, with presenter Laura Kyle, discusses with guests: Kamel Wazne, a political analyst and a professor at the American University of Science and Technology; Saleh El Machnouk, a political analyst and a lecturer at the Lebanese American University; and Robert Fisk, a Middle East analyst and foreign correspondent for the UK newspaper The Independent.

"It is certainly a very dangerous situation to have popped up in Tripoli. It's been coming for a long time. For many months the Lebanese army have actually been based inside Tripoli at crusader castle, ironically taking the role of long-ago French invaders of the Middle East. So what you have got, in fact, is exactly what started during the period of civil war. What's worrying the prime minister and everyone in Lebanon is the fear that the army might break apart, which is what started the war in 1975. I don't think it will, but that is the fear."

Robert Fisk, a Middle East analyst and foreign correspondent for the UK newspaper The Independent


 

TENSIONS IN TRIPOLI:

  • Residents of the Tripoli neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen are mainly Alawites and largely support the Syrian government
  • Residents of the Bab al Tabbaneh neighbourhood in Tripoli are mostly Sunnis and anti-Assad
  • Northern Lebanon has seen a number of violent clashes in recent months and 10 people were killed there last month
  • Thousands of Syrian refugees have crossed the border into Lebanon
  • The March 8 movement - which controls the Lebanese government - is backed by Syria

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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