Fears for Lebanon’s stability continue as tensions escalate
A powerful car bomb in Beirut on Friday has destroyed years of calm in Lebanon and has fuelled fears of a spillover of the violence taking place in neighbouring Syria.
Despite historically sitting under the political might and influence of Syria, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has spent the past 18 months attempting to draw a line of dissociation from the Syrian crisis and retaining a sense of calm in the small Middle Eastern nation.
However, this line was unavoidably crossed on Friday 19th October with the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, the intelligence chief of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces.
Al-Hassan was close to Lebanese Sunni groups and seen as supportive of anti-Assad rebels. The consequent anger of the Sunni opposition at Al-Hassan’s death was clearly shown at his funeral on Sunday, which saw thousands of mourners in attendance.
The heightened tensions echo those seen in 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in another car bomb attack by suspected Syrian-sponsored forces. That episode compelled Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, ending 30 years of occupation.
In the past, Syria has managed to keep Lebanon in a position of controlled stability, where it was able to retain influence through its allies. However, since Assad’s grip on power has weakened, Lebanese Sunni opposition forces have become more aggressive, openly supporting Syrian rebels.
While political leaders have urged calm, the risk is the growing detachment of country’s political elites from the street.
The US confirmed their support of Lebanese efforts in forming a new government coalition in order to keep the country under control after the tension sparked by the killing of Wissam al-Hassan.
Victoria Nuland, a US State Department spokeswoman said: “This is obviously a Lebanese affair. And while we don’t want a vacuum of a legitimate political authority, we do support this process that is now under way to produce a new government that’s responsive to the needs of the Lebanese people.“
The EU shares American concerns about a political equilibrium in the Middle East. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, talking in Beirut on Tuesday with Lebanon’s President Suleiman and Prime Minister Mikati, welcomed efforts to “maintain stability through national dialogue”.
She simultaneously warned against the dangers of a political vacuum in the country in reference to Mikati’s offer of resignation, which was promptly rejected by President Suleiman.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 Syrians seeking refuge have already crossed the border into Lebanon, including 7,500 Palestinians who had been refugees in Syria.