The fallout of the conflict in Syria is being felt in parts of neighbouring Lebanon, giving one more pretext for external intervention in the country, which has so far successfully thwarted attempts at “regime change” by the U.S. and its allies.
Overnight clashes in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, that borders Syria, resumed on Friday. Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported that sniper fire at dawn on Friday had killed a Sunni cleric, Sheikh Khaled al-Baradei, heightening tensions between groups divided over Syria.
The clashes have also acquired a dangerous sectarian dimension as the city’s minority Allawi community battles the majority Sunnis.
The Lebanese government is showing some desperation in containing the violence, which can — if left to fester — become the cause for external intervention on humanitarian grounds in Lebanon as well. At least 12 people have been killed since fighting commenced in Tripoli on Monday. On Thursday, several families, which had been displaced by the fighting, returned to take stock of damage caused to their homes in the clashes.
During a tense internal meeting on Thursday to contain the violence, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati urged the Army to restore calm “by all means necessary”. The National News Agency (NNA) said the participants asked religious leaders to consolidate the process of reconciliation in the city that commenced in 2009. The Prime Minister’s exhortations seemed to be working as the Army responded to the clashes, Lebanon’s Al Manar television reported.
As the fighting raged, Iran — a key ally of Syria and the Lebanese Hizbollah — mounted a fresh diplomatic initiative to contain the crisis. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced that host Tehran would unveil a plan for reconciliation in Syria during the coming Non-Aligned summit. Iran “has a proposal regarding Syria which it will discuss with countries taking part in the NAM summit,” the Fars and Mehr news agencies quoted Mr. Salehi as saying. “This proposal is an acceptable and rational one, and includes all parties, and opposing it will be very difficult,” the Minister observed.
Instead of focusing on a home-grown solution, the U.N. Undersecretary General Jeffrey Feltman told a Security Council during a meeting on West Asia that clashes in Tripoli suggested the “need for international action”. “As the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate, the situation in Lebanon has become more precarious and the need for continued international support to the government and the Lebanese Armed Forces increasingly important,” said Mr. Feltman, an ambassador of the United States to Lebanon between 2004-08.
With the end of the regime not in sight, the U.S. persisted with veiled threats of using force against the Assad government. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon had worked out plans to deactivate Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons using Special Operations forces. On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that “if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised” by Syria, then Mr. Assad would have crossed a “red line” prompting immediate American intervention.
The shrill rhetoric emerging from Washington follows the Syrian Army’s success in counter-attacking the Syrian armed opposition. On Thursday, government forces recaptured three neighbourhoods in the historic heart of Aleppo, the state run news agency SANA reported. Separately, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad slammed Turkey for giving “terrorists, including al-Qaeda, free access to Turkey to come to Syria”.