Clashes in Beirut: "The conflict in Syria is spilling over into Lebanon"

Burning tires blocking a road in Beirut on Sunday. Photo published on Twitter by Mohdold.
 
Clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in Lebanon have spread from the northern city of Tripoli down to the capital Beirut. At least two people killed there during street battles Sunday night. Our Observer in the capital describes how the Syrian conflict has spilled over into Lebanon, and how many Lebanese suspect the Syrian government of purposefully stirring up trouble in their country.
 
The fighting erupted just hours after reports emerged that soldiers had shot dead Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Wahid, a prominent anti-Syrian government Sunni cleric. According to state media, Wahad’s convoy had failed to stop at a checkpoint in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese army has sought to calm tensions by issuing an apology, and has promised to carry out an investigation into the incident.
 
According to the French news agency AFP, an office housing a pro-Syrian government party was torched during Sunday’s clashes, which took place in the neighbourhood of Tareek El-Jdideh in West Beirut.
 
This followed days of violent clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, which pitted Sunnis in favour of the Syrian revolution against Alawites, members of a Shiite sect, who support Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s government. (Assad is himself Alawite). In Beirut, however, Sunnis fought against other Sunnis.
 
While the situation in Beirut had calmed down Monday morning, the clashes stoked fears that the Syrian conflict is spreading into Lebanon. The two nations are linked by complex political and sectarian ties, and Lebanon’s political parties are deeply divided over the issue of Syria: most of the opposition backs the Syrian uprising, while the ruling coalition, led by Hezbollah, backs Assad.
 
Loud gunfire rings out near the Arab University in Beirut on Sunday night.
Contributors

“Many people here believe Syria is in some way behind the cleric’s killing”

Rayan Skaff lives in Beirut. He is a university student specialising in business management.
 
The trouble all began where I live, right between the neighbourhoods of Kass-kass and Tayouneh. This is a Sunni area, where most people support former premier Saad Hariri’s party, which sides with the Syrian revolution. [Following Wahid’s killing, Hariri said in a statement: “We do not blame the Lebanese Army as a whole for [Wahid’s] killing ... But it is clear that there are some infiltrators involved in this killing who want to use the [military] establishment and its symbol to import the Syrian regime’s crisis ... to Lebanon in a desperate attempt to save it from its inevitable doom.”] Many people here share Hariri’s view, and believe Syria is in some way behind this killing. What’s certain is that the conflict in Syria is spilling over into Lebanon.
 
From my balcony, I saw protesters, mostly young men from my neighbourhood, barring the road with tires, which they set on fire. They didn’t use any weapons at first; they just wouldn’t let any cars get through. Around 11 p.m., however, they went over to the nearby neighbourhood of Tareek El-Djideh [which is also mainly Sunni], where they attacked the headquarters of a political party that supports the Syrian regime. I heard machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades being fired late into the night, until at least 3 or 4 a.m. The army tried to intervene, but it is too weak to control the Lebanese people – here, everyone owns a weapon. There are plenty of Kalashnikovs and M-16s in circulation; these are considered light weapons.
 
“It is possible that fighting will erupt anew”
 
I talked to some of the men who went down into the street. They’re not bored young hooligans – they’re true Hariri supporters. They were fighting other Sunnis who are pro-Syrian regime. However, I fear that in the end, this conflict is at least partly sectarian, since pro-Syrian regime Sunni politicians are backed by Hezbollah, which is Shiite.
Today, the city is back to normal. Shops are open; my university professors are teaching their classes. However, it is possible that fighting will erupt anew, as the young protesters I talked to told me they planned to keep venting their anger throughout the next three days, which correspond to the three days of mourning called for Wahid’s death.
 
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