What threat does a mini-war in Tripoli pose for Lebanon?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova) - Ten dead in two days, and about 50 wounded. This is the sad result of armed clashes between the supporters of the ruling majority and the opposition in the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon.

This is the worst unrest in the country since 80 people were killed when riots broke out in early May. A little more than a month ago, on May 21, in Doha, capital of Qatar, the leaders of the opposing Lebanese factions signed a package of agreements, which many believed would put an end to the domestic crisis. But recent events in Tripoli raise questions about their implementation.

Not a single media report mentioned the reasons behind the recent riots. The warring sides did not make any demands. It was merely reported that for the most part, the clashes took place between two districts - one predominantly populated by Sunni Muslims, who support the ruling Lebanese majority, and the other by pro-Syrian Shiite Alavites, who back the opposition.

Similar incidents, but on a smaller scale, have taken place during the last month all over the country, but were explained away as symptoms of residual, pre-Doha tension. The weapons stockpiled by both sides made it easy for verbal arguments to spill into violence. But this mini-war in Tripoli is an obvious warning that the Doha agreements may turn out to be fiction.

The work of the Lebanese government has been paralyzed for a year and a half. Since last November, the country has lived without a president. The Doha agreements led to the long-awaited election of the president, a compromise on the cabinet's format, and a number of other accords, including the consent of all major Lebanese political forces to renounce the use of arms in resolving domestic problems.

But a new government has not yet been formed, and the legitimacy of the transitional cabinet, which existed before the May events, is rather dubious. Nevertheless, Lebanese politicians are unable, or unwilling, to divide ministerial portfolios, and continue to accuse each other of dragging out the crisis. What is happening in the corridors of power is naturally reflected in the streets. Absence of order at the top makes it impossible to demand it of the man-in-the-street. It is horrifying that neither the police nor the army has been able to prevent Tripoli-like clashes. A single bullet could trigger off massive unrest, and even a civil war.

Nobody in Beirut will gain from that. The opposition, which instantly established control over Beirut, is hoping that the Doha agreements will be carried out. The disparate groups of the "majority" coalition do not want to aggravate the situation either - the events of May are still fresh in their memory. It is no accident that their comments on the shooting in Tripoli were very reserved.

Thus, the leader of the March 14 Alliance, Saad Hariri, urged supporters of the government not to prevent security forces from putting things in order in Tripoli. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora condemned the violence, and added that it was not conducive to stabilization.

These are rather mild statements from the majority. As a rule, they blame the opposition, primarily Hezbollah, as well as Syria for all tragic developments in Lebanon. They made such statements now but at a rather low level and not so persistently. Meanwhile, this was a brilliant opportunity to accuse Damascus of interference, as Syrian President Bashar Asad comes from the Alavit community. The majority has used lesser pretexts in the past. So why didn't it use this chance this time, at least at the top level? That question remains open.

Possibly the clashes in Tripoli are repercussions of the political struggle in Beirut, or the majority does not want to draw the attention of the world community to these events, thereby admitting that the Doha agreements have fallen through.

But the unrest in Tripoli may be a prelude to more tragic events in other parts of the country. The opposition and the majority will not show restraint forever.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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