Syrian crisis stabs at heart of Lebanese capital

The Daily Star reports: The assassination of a high-ranking Lebanese security official opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad in a car bomb in Beirut signals that the Syrian crisis has begun to explode in Lebanon, political analysts said Friday. The powerful blast that killed Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the head of the police’s Information Branch, and at least four others Friday in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh, has also revived memories of the wave of car bombings that engulfed Lebanon during the devastating 1975-90 Civil War.

“The Ashrafieh blast sets the beginning for the Syrian crisis to explode in Lebanon. Lebanon has entered the Syrian melee,” Simon Haddad, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star. “The regime in Syria has entered a dangerous stage. Therefore, it will use all means in order to prolong its life.”

Blaming the Assad regime for the explosion, Haddad said: “The Syrian regime is sending messages to the March 14 parties as well as to America and Europe to stop their support for the Syrian opposition.

“The Syrian regime is trying to send a clear message to the international community saying: ‘Supporting the rebels [in Syria] will threaten security and stability in Lebanon,’” he added.

A similar view was echoed by Samir Franjieh, a former Maronite MP, who said that the Ashrafieh explosion and Hasan’s killing were clearly linked to the 19-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.

“The Syrian regime has begun playing with Lebanon’s stability as a card to negotiate with the international community over the future of Syria, including reducing the international sanctions on it,” Franjieh, a member of the opposition March 14 Secretariat General, told The Daily Star.

“The explosion was a clear attempt by Syria to undermine stability in Lebanon in order to exert pressure on the international community. Syria wants to tell the international community: ‘If you want to maintain stability in Lebanon, you must talk to us.’”

Friday’s explosion, the most serious blast the Lebanese capital has seen in more than four years, comes at a time when Lebanon has increasingly felt the repercussions of the crisis in neighboring Syria with the country’s March 8 and March 14 parties sharply split over the conflict next door.

Arab and Western countries have repeatedly voiced concerns over Lebanon’s stability, warning against the reverberations of the turmoil in Syria on the country’s security.

Politicians and analysts have long held the view that Lebanon’s security and stability are intertwined with that of Syria.

Violence in Syria has often spilled over into Lebanon, jolting the country’s already fragile security situation, with cross-border shootings, shelling by the Syrian army, tit-for-tat kidnappings, sectarian clashes and fighting between armed supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli. Several Lebanese have been killed and wounded by Syrian gunfire in a series of deadly incidents on the Lebanese-Syrian border in recent months.

The split between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition over the Syrian crisis has raised fears of the turmoil in Syria spilling over to Lebanon.

Ahmad Moussali, professor of Islamic studies at AUB, also said Hasan’s assassination signaled the beginning of grave repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon.

“The Ashrafieh explosion and Hasan’s assassination sent political messages both at home and abroad. But the most important message is that the situation in Syria will not remain confined to Syrian territory and will plunge Lebanon into conflicts of high-level tension,” Moussali told The Daily Star.

“No doubt, the crisis in Syria will reflect on the political conflict in Lebanon because the Lebanese have joined the conflict in Syria by financing, arming and training the Syrian opposition,” he said.

Moussali added that Hasan’s assassination deep in the Lebanese capital showed that the repercussions of the Syrian crisis directly struck the heart of Lebanon. “The assassination of Hasan, who is linked to the U.N. investigation [into former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s killing], has sent a strong message to all parties in Lebanon.”

“The one who assassinated Hasan wants to turn the conflict in Syria into an inter-Lebanese conflict. Hasan’s assassination is a trap to play the Lebanese against each other,” Moussali said. “The assassination could be the beginning to justify an exchange of assassinations between the feuding parties in Lebanon.” [Continue reading…]

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