Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Violence in Syria spills over into Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Gunbattles between Lebanese factions supporting and opposing the Syrian government spread to Beirut on Monday in the most serious outbreak of violence in Lebanon since the Syrian uprising began.

Three people died and about 20 people were injured, Lebanese press reports said.

The fighting overnight in Beirut resulted in the expulsion of a small pro-Syrian faction, the Arab Movement Party, from a largely Sunni Muslim neighborhood in the southern part of the city. The first-floor apartment that housed the party was burned.

But after the military intervened, the neighborhood was calm, attracting mostly gawkers who came to take photographs with their cellphones.

The potential for Syria's violence to infect Lebanon has always been considered dangerous, given that their factional and sectarian differences are similar.

Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shiite Muslim group, supports Syria, as do a smattering of smaller Shiite factions. Most Sunni Muslim organizations would like to see Syria's president, Bashar Assad, overthrown. The overnight street fighting was between factions within the Sunni Muslim community, however, and did not directly involve Hezbollah.

After the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon proclaimed a policy of "disassociation" from either side in Syria.

The immediate cause of the clashes was the killing of two anti-Syrian Sunni Muslim clerics Sunday by the army at a checkpoint near Tripoli, already a tinderbox this month with a reported nine people killed and dozens wounded.

The events leading to the clerics' shooting remained unclear. After an altercation with a soldier at the checkpoint, they tried to speed away and the soldier opened fire, according to local accounts.

The northern town of Bireh held an angry funeral for Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Wahid, who lived there and was the more senior of the two clerics killed.

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