The violence and sectarian clashes emanating from Syria’s three-year long civil war continued to spill over the border into neighboring Lebanon this week, as the death toll from clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern port city of Tripoli rose to nearly two dozen. Seven people were killed Friday, bringing the death toll to at least 21 since the sectarian-tinged fighting erupted last week.
Since the conflict broke out in neighboring Syria, there have been on-and-off clashes between residents of Tripoli’s Sunni district of Bab al-Tabanneh (which supports the Sunni insurgents battling the Syrian government) and the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen (which backs Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime). The latest bout of fighting was sparked on March 21, when gunmen shot and killed a Sunni man who lived in an Alawite neighborhood and had Alawite relatives.
During Friday’s violence four civilians including an elderly man were gunned down by snipers, while eleven others were wounded. About 150 people have been wounded since the latest round of violence between the Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods erupted last week. Three people injured in earlier clashes also died Friday.
The Syrian civil war–which pit rebels from Syria’s Sunni majority against a government controlled by the country’s Alawite minority and supported by Shia Iran–has stoked Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East, and particularly in the sectarian tinderboxes of Iraq and Lebanon.
Shia Iran and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah have backed Assad, a longtime ally of both Tehran and Hezbollah, while Sunni gulf states and Turkey have supported the Sunni insurgents, buttressing the rebels through the provision of light weapons and cash.
The crackdown on the largely Sunni rebels by Assad’s security forces, who are supported in their campaign by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraqi militias, has enraged the insurgents’ Sunni brethren in Lebanon and across the region. This anger reached a fever pitch last May, when Hezbollah, or Party of God, openly joined Assad’s campaign to crush the rebellion.
Hezbollah’s overt intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad’s regime began when the Iranian-backed Shia group sent fighters across the border to help the Syrian government retake the strategic border town of Qusair, which had been under the control of rebel forces since early 2012. Assad’s security forces, aided by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, were able to seize control of Qusair in early June following a three-week battle that enraged the Shia groups’ Sunni opponents in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria’s sectarian conflict ushered in a violent period in Lebanon, as militant Sunni groups unleashed a wave of bombings against Hezbollah and Shia targets.
– Eric Erdahl