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Lebanon is increasingly getting sucked into the vortex of Syrian conflict. On Friday, the country’s top police official General Wissam al-Hassan was killed along with nine others after a car bomb exploded in a busy middle-class Christian neighbourhood in central Beirut. The assassination plunged the country into a political crisis, with the Prime Minister Najib Mikati announcing his cabinet would resign as soon as a caretaker national unity government could be formed. Later, he said he would stay on in the country’s interest.
Wissam al-Hassan was a key investigator for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the international investigation into the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and several other bomb attacks which have been blamed on Syria.
Mikati linked the murder to last month’s discovery by security forces of attacks allegedly being planned by Michel Samaha, a pro-Syrian former minister, which were aimed at causing sectarian strife in Lebanon. “I cannot separate the plot uncovered last month and what happened yesterday... After the discovery of explosives, logic dictates that the two cases are related.”
Tensions between the pro-Syrian government in Beirut and an opposition which backs the rebels in Syria have steadily increased and have reached dangerous levels. The death of Hassan, a Sunni, will worsen the crisis and deepen the sectarian rifts, with supporters calling for a national strike and retaliatory violence against the Shia group Hezbollah and its allies in the government. Hezbollah has denied that it was behind the blast, but people are unlikely to feel convinced with allegiances among various groups being so clear.
The conflict in Syria have resurrected memories of sectarian violence from Lebanon’s long civil war and relations between various groups in the country are very tenuous. That is one reason why the country’s leaders need to be on guard to prevent a repetition of those dark days. It’s unfortunate that the Syrian crisis is posing serious threats to the stability and peace of Lebanon. The continuation of the Syrian conflict will drag Lebanon into the conflict further, and has the potential to destabilise the entire region.
Lebanese leaders must realise that getting into tit-for-tat killings will destabilise the country and take it down the path of destruction. The country should not be forced into a return of the sectarian conflict it went through. The regime of Bashar Al Assad is likely to cause unrest in Lebanon to further his interests. For long, Syria has been wielding huge influence in Lebanese politics and only a change in Damascus can bring an end to it. At the same time, the people of Lebanon must be careful not to fall into Assad’s trap.