Home inContext Violence Erupts in Lebanon

Violence Erupts in Lebanon

Michael Johnson

Violence erupted across Lebanon over the weekend and continued into this week after Wissam al-Hassan, Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces chief, was assassinated in a car bomb attack in Beirut on Friday. The bomb, which exploded in a busy street during rush hour, killed seven others and wounded approximately 80. Since the assassination, seven people are known to have died in separate sectarian related violent incidents concentrated in Tripoli and Beirut.

After al-Hassan’s funeral on Sunday, where thousands gathered accusing Syria of involvement in the killing, protesters converged on the offices of Prime Minister Najib Mikati calling for his resignation. Mikati is associated with the March 8 movement, a political coalition lead by Hezbollah, and is accused of being open to Syrian influence.

Damaged cars at the explosion site. (Photo: Stringer/Reuters)

The majority of regional newspapers — with Iran being the exception — have also speculated that Syria was behind the attack. Mikati, for his part, said al-Hassan’s death may be linked to his investigation last summer that led to the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, an ally of the Syrian regime, now charged with planning attacks in Lebanon at Syria’s behest. Al-Hassan was also involved in the investigation of the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri that led to the indictment of four Hezbollah members.

Lebanon has experienced an unstable peace since the end of its civil war in 1990 and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2006. As fighting in Syria continues, there is reason for concern that violence will spill over the border and upset the already shaky balance that is the Lebanese political and sectarian situation.