Lebanon Struggles to Cope With Syria's Mounting Spillover

Article Summary
As the battle for Syria rages, neighboring Lebanon is struggling to deal with spillover from the conflict. Suleiman Takieddine reports on the destabilizing effect the Syrian crisis is having along the shared border in the form of raids and gunfire, and within Lebanon as refugees settle in ethnicly determined areas.

Recently, there have been increasing indications that Lebanese political forces have been involved in the Syrian crisis, and that Syrian forces are also being drawn into Lebanon's affairs.

Almost every day, security incidents take place on the border between the two countries. The conflicts occur between the Syrian army, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and armed Syrian and Lebanese groups that are involved in administrative, security or smuggling operations along the border.

Syrian bombardment, raids and infiltration into Lebanese territory has become commonplace. Recent kidnappings underscore the negative repercussions this conflict is having on Lebanon.

Some military information has recently surfaced that "fighters from Hezbollah have been killed in Syria, and that there were mutual threats," and that it is known that "Hezbollah militants are spread along the border, from the northern Bekaa Valley to the south [of Lebanon]. The Shiite group controls the border and the traffic flow across it.”

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However, talk of the Shiite group’s involvement in security operations in Syria has taken a more serious turn, with the funeral of a number of Hezbollah militants in Lebanon [killed in the fighting in Syria].

On the other hand, there is no doubt that Salafist movements in Lebanon are also involved in the conflict in Syria — particularly in the northern region. There have been confirmed reports regarding the involvement of Palestinians from refugee camps in Lebanon in such activities.

Predictions that the Syrian crisis will spill into Lebanon have become almost undeniable, and are contributing to further straining relations between different Lebanese factions.

In the absence of any serious political project or initiative to end the Syrian crisis, it has become clear that the violence between the opposition and pro-government forces in Syria is escalating without any end in sight. Internationalizing the Syrian crisis at the highest levels is also likely to send the country spiraling backward toward open-ended chaos, putting Lebanon at risk from its potential fallout.

Apart from political considerations and calculations made by Lebanese parties on the multiple possible outcomes for the Syrian crisis, a physical intervention is another element that further complicates matters in Lebanon. Lebanese parties have yet to agree upon an electoral law or on the elections themselves.

The Maronite church has recently taken a firmer stance regarding the electoral law and Christians' share in parliament next year. Lebanese Christians fear the Islamization wave sweeping across Syria. They seek to preserve their positions within the Lebanese government and have gone as far as to accept projects based on more sectarian divide.

Today, Lebanon is witnessing a severe struggle for power between the March 8 and March 14 political camps, regarding the electoral law and the potential victory of one side over the other.

Both camps are basing their actions on political balance rather than on reform dimensions or sound and fair representation. Each camp implicitly justifies its position in view of the general atmosphere prevailing in the region.

Thus, the Syrian and Lebanese crises have become increasingly overlapped and Lebanon is slowly sliding toward regional conflict.

According to UN organizations, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has reached 8,000. However, this figure only reflects the number of people requesting humanitarian aid. The actual number is several times larger, as most Syrian refugees with better socioeconomic standing have calmly settled in Lebanon.

Nevertheless, the displacement of Syrian refugees on the border has fomented trouble between different Syrian factions, as well as between Syrian and Lebanese citizens. According to official Lebanese sources, there is mounting concern that a large proportion of Syrian refugees will resettle in Lebanon, especially those who have managed to find a supportive environment.

It is known that Iraqis — Christians, in particular — who have been displaced from Syrian to Lebanon have settled in certain areas. Some Syrian factions have followed suit.

In light of the fragile security situation and political conflicts, Lebanon seems to be teetering on the brink of a civil war.

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Found in: syrian refugees, syrian crisis, syrian, syria rebels, sectarianism, sectarian conflict in lebanon, sectarian, refugees, lebanon, lebanese politics, hezbollah
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