Inside Story

Is Syria’s unrest spilling over into Lebanon?

As clashes rock Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, we ask if Syria’s neighbour will be dragged into the ‘Arab Spring’.

Lebanon is now feeling the impact of the escalating violence over the border in Syria.

At least three people were killed and dozens injured after skirmishes turned violent in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Saturday.

If there is a real decision from the Syrian intelligence to open fire completely it will be impossible even for the Lebanese army unless they use a lot of force to stop the clashes. We are in a continuous and probably imminent danger of having the clashes again at any time.”

– Mustafa Allouch, a member of the Future movement

Tensions that had been brewing between a pro-Assad Alawite community and an anti-Assad Sunni neighbourhood spiralled out of control over the weekend, leading to two days of violence.

Both sides fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at each other and the Lebanese army was ultimately called in to calm the tensions.

Activists say hundreds of civilians were killed in the newest escalation of violence by Syrian government troops in the city of Homs.

A bomb attack in Aleppo also killed 28 people, but no one has yet claimed responsibility for it.

The latest incident comes as the international community considers a new Saudi resolution to pressure the Syrian government following a double veto of a UN draft calling for action last week.

The politics of Syria have always had a bearing on Lebanon, so the clashes in Tripoli are being seen as evidence that Syria’s 11 months of violent unrest might be spilling over into its neighbour.

The constituents of Tripoli are something special. What constitutes the social mosaic there makes this situation explosive. You have Sunni and Allawi, you have pro-resistance Hezbollah and pro-Syrian regime, and you have pro-14th March and the Future movement. This mixture makes things explosive in Tripoli … which is not the case in other areas.”

– Elias Hanna, a military analyst

So when the Arab League took a stand against the Syrian government in November, Lebanon voted against suspending Syria’s participation in the group’s activities.

Lebanon was also the only member state that did not endorse an Arab League plan urging Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to transfer powers to his deputy.

Syria exerted its control over Lebanon between 1976 and 2005 up until the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister.

Damascus has since removed its military presence from Lebanon, but still maintains that it had nothing to do with the assassination plot.

Meanwhile, some political groups enjoy support from the Syrian government.

For its part, Hezbollah now controls the majority of Lebanon’s parliament, and it is not too keen on seeing al-Assad fall from power.

So, just how serious is the violence? And what does it mean for Lebanon, a country that has been largely quiet throughout the so-called ‘Arab Spring’? Is the unrest in Syria spilling over into Lebanon?

To discuss this, Inside Story and presenter Adrian Finighan are joined by guests: Kamel Wazne, a political analyst; Elias Hanna, a former Lebanese military general and political analyst; and Mustafa Allouch, a member of the Future movement.

“Syria has no interest whatsoever to instigate any violence in Lebanon. Some people were mad because the Lebanese army stood at the border to stop the smuggling of weapons from Tripoli into Syria. If anything, the Syrians want Lebanon to be calm because they think that Homs is under control and they want to stop the smuggling of weapons from Lebanon into Syria.”

Kamel Wazne, a political analyst