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Are Tripoli Bombings Aimed At Sparking Sectarian War in Lebanon?

Leading Lebanese figures claim that Friday's bombings, which targeted Sunni mosques in the northern city of Tripoli and resulted in more than 40 deaths, were aimed at polarizing the country and sparking a sectarian war.
A crane removes burnt cars from outside one of two mosques hit by explosions in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, August 23, 2013. Twin explosions outside two mosques killed at least 27 people and wounded hundreds in apparently coordinated attacks in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, a senior health official and witnesses said. REUTERS/Sobhi Al-Sharif (LEBANON - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX12U8F

The main political forces in Lebanon — including Hezbollah, the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement — concluded that the bombings that targeted two mosques in the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, were aimed at sparking a sectarian Sunni-Shiite war in Lebanon, by provoking tit-for-tat reactions.  

The first blast occurred near the Taqwi Mosque in Tripoli during Friday prayers. Prominent Salafist Sheikh Salem Rafii was present in the mosque at the time of the explosion, while sources close to him confirmed that he was not hurt in the blast and is safe. Minutes later, a second explosion hit the port area near a mosque on Al-Muarid Street, near the residence of outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Mikati, who is currently abroad, announced that he would be cutting his trip short and returning to Lebanon immediately. The blasts resulted in approximately 42 deaths and more than 500 wounded, and came just over a week after the Ruwais bombing in Beirut's southern suburbs, which left 30 dead and about 330 wounded. 

Footage of the aftermath of one of the bombings

A source close to Hezbollah, who asked not to be named, said in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor that regional parties have entered into the internal conflict in Lebanon. He added that these parties — and in particular Israel — aim at using these bombings to spark Sunni-Shiite strife in Lebanon. The source said that the goal of these bombings was making them appear as if they were a response by Hezbollah to the Ruwais bombing nearly a week ago. 

Hezbollah issued a statement condemning the "terrorist blasts" in Tripoli, and said that "these terrorist blasts are part of the criminal scheme aiming to sow strife among the Lebanese and drag them into civil strife under sectarian banners, which serves the regional-international scheme seeking to fragment our region and drown it in seas of blood and fire. ... [The blasts aim to] continue the scheme of dragging Lebanon into chaos and destruction and to fulfill the malicious objectives of the Zionist enemy and its supporters."

Muhammad Fneish, the caretaker minister of state for administrative reform and one of Hezbollah's representatives in the government, said: "The fingerprints of the bombing in Tripoli indicate that it's part of a single scheme, carried out by a single actor. Whoever did this wants to bring Lebanon into the inferno of war," indicating that there was a hand — possessing great capabilities — that was plotting and didn't want stability in Lebanon. 

Mouin Merhebi, a Future Movement MP from the north, said in a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, "Those who carried out the Ruwais bombing in [Beirut's] southern suburbs are the same people who carried out the two bombings in Tripoli. The tools were the same, the results were the same: pushing the country into sectarian strife." Merhebi refused to comment further on this "new painful incident in the history of Lebanon."

In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, former Lebanese Minister of State Karim Pakradouni said, "These explosions, wherever they occur — whether in [Beirut's] southern suburbs or in the north — come within the context of a single goal: creating and fueling Sunni-Shiite conflict as part of a sectarian game that is not only Lebanese, but present throughout the entire region."

Pakradouni, who is the former head of the Kataeb, or Phalangist, Party and an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, said, "There are financiers and planners for terrorist acts that occur in Lebanon, and unfortunately most of [these acts] are signed off on by the Gulf countries." He explained, "I'm not just being pessimistic, I'm being realistic. This will be a drawn-out issue, and we might see more acts of terrorism. I only ask for God's mercy for Islam and all of Lebanon."

In response to a question about the possibility that the party that carried out the bombings in Tripoli is the same party that carried out the Ruwais bombing in Beirut's southern suburbs, Pakradouni said, "All possibilities are open. Is it possible to know who the party that carried out these bombings is? What we do know is that the movement on the ground is open to all possibilities, and these security incidents are several steps ahead of us. We must work toward finding a vision for the future. We can't just stop and look on, following the results of the Ruwais investigations. Tripoli too is erupting, so we must work to find solutions."

Pakradouni concluded by saying that events are "aimed at distracting us from our primary causes and distancing us from our main issue, both in terms of liberating Arab lands and establishing a Palestinian state. What is happening is aimed at harming the resistance. Whether we're talking about the southern suburbs bombing or the bombing in the north, both are aimed at harming the Lebanese resistance."

The head of the parliamentary Change and Reform Bloc, Gen. Michel Aoun, commented on Friday's Tripoli bombings in a television interview on OTV. He said, "These bombings are a kind of provocation, working to claim victims in different areas. This is so that each person who is injured believes that the other is trying to avenge himself, which thus raises the level of bombings in the country." Aoun said that what is needed today is not just condemnation of the bombings, but also "enlisting all Lebanese to contribute to pacification. [The Lebanese] must clarify that these bombings are part of a conspiracy directed against all Lebanese, and there will be no winner or loser — everyone will lose."

For his part, outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that these blasts are "a clear messaged aimed at sowing discord and dragging Tripoli and its residents to take reactionary moves. But Tripoli and its people will prove once again that they are stronger than the conspiracy and will not allow strife to undermine their will and faith in God and the nation. They will rise above their wounds, no matter how severe."

Meanwhile, the head of the parliamentary Future Movement, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, said, "The hand that extended to Tripoli today and placed these two bombs aims at pushing Tripoli and its people to lose control, and forcing them into the trap of [sectarian] strife — through their own hands — through spontaneous reactionary moves. [It aims at] driving them into a state of anger and chaos, through placing the bombs at the doors of these two mosques as worshippers were exiting them."

Siniora asked, "What is the aim of these explosions that happened in Tripoli? Is the goal to divert attention from the massacres in Syria and from Hezbollah's involvement there? Or is the goal also to expand the battlefield so that the entire region enters into the internal conflicts, which, in the end, are led by the Lebanese people? The primary beneficiary [of these conflicts] is definitely Israel, as well as some regional and international powers."

Siniora concluded by saying that the only solution to get out [of this crisis] is "to return to the domestic [issues] and pay attention to the Lebanon's affairs, and for Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria."

The founder of the Salafist movement in Lebanon, Dai al-Islam al-Chahal, accused the Syrian regime and its allies, in reference to Hezbollah, of standing behind the Tripoli and Ruwais bombings. During a television interview he said, "The Syrian regime is the one who carried out the southern suburbs blast, in order to save Hezbollah from the big predicament they are in. The Shiites are sacrificing themselves for [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad." Chahal announced that the Salafist movement had made a decision to create its own security apparatus. 

The Syrian government condemned the bombings in Tripoli and called for an investigation to find out who planned and carried out these "dirty" acts, directing their fingers at the same party that carried out the bombing in Ruwais. In a statement released Friday, the Syrian Ministry of Information said that these crimes were "designed to sow discord and harm civil peace in Lebanon, dragging the country into chaos and ruin."

In the wake of the Tripoli bombings, clashes erupted between the Nashar Group, which is close to Hezbollah, and other militants in the al-Rifaii district of Tripoli. 

Haytham Mouzahem is a Lebanese analyst specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs. On Twitter: @haytham66

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