Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sectarian Tension Escalates in Lebanon, Erupts in More Violence

Clashes between student supporters of the National Opposition and the Siniora government erupted on Thursday at the Arab University of Beirut in Lebanon and quickly spread to local neighborhoods. The student factions were quickly joined by supporters from surrounding neighborhoods, primarily Sunnis belonging to Saad al-Hariri's Future Movement and Shi'i supporters of Hizbu'llah and the more secular-leaning AMAL. Snipers belonging to various paramilitary forces were also reportedly lining the rooftops. Lebanese Army troops arrived in force and attempted to restore order to little avail. When the smoke cleared, four people were dead and over 150 were injured. A curfew was imposed from dawn to dusk in Beirut for the first time in over a decade for a day.

Leaders of political parties on both sides called for their supporters to exercise restraint and predictably blamed each other for the violence. However, al-Hariri's supporters were allegedly the first to react violently back in December when Future Movement members attacked Shi'i protestors and killed 19-year-old AMAL member 'Ali Ahmad Mahmoud.

For more information on Thursday's protests, see:

Thursday's clashes coming close on the heels of violent protests on Tuesday illustrate yet again the danger posed by the rising sectarian tensions, which have been further inflamed by financial and vocal public support of the two sides by both members of the Iranian and Saudi Arabian governments. Recently Saudi King 'Abdullah [LEFT] warned Iran against trying to "spread" Shi'i Islam around the Middle East vocalizing the fears of many Sunni Arabs and secular Sunni Arab leaders regarding the rising political power of the Shi'a in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf states and the growing regional power of Shi'i-majority Iran. Former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar met this week with Iranian government negotiator 'Ali Larijani to try and broker a deal between the Lebanese Opposition and the pro-government factions.

For a Sunni-slanted report, see:

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