Lebanon and Jordan move to contain Syria-related violence
BEIRUT — Lebanon and Jordan moved aggressively Monday to squelch the spread of violence from Syria’s deadlocked civil war, the most significant register yet of alarm over the strife spilling over Syrian borders.
Lebanese army tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into the streets of Beirut and Tripoli to stop a night of gunfights as the Lebanese military issued an extraordinary statement urging sectarian and political leaders to refrain from incitement to pull the country back from the brink.
“The country’s fate is at risk,” the statement said. “Tension in some areas is increasing to unprecedented levels.”
In Jordan, the authorities seized a ring of Jordanian extremists suspected of plotting mayhem with munitions from Syria, while Jordanian military skirmishes with suspected Islamic militants traversing the Syria-Jordan border left a Jordanian colonel dead — the first military casualty suffered by Jordan in connection with the Syria conflict since it began 19 months ago.
Fears that the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad could destabilize the Middle East have been growing for months as the conflict has aggravated sectarian tensions that cut across national boundaries and has sent more than 300,000 refugees spilling into Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. But those fears escalated sharply Friday when a large bomb obliterated a Beirut block, killing eight people including Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese security official.
The blast was followed by a weekend of roadblocks, sporadic street protests and isolated clashes in Lebanon. Al-Hassan, the head of internal security, was a hero to many Sunni Muslims, Christians and others here for his efforts to expose assassinations and other political meddling by the Syrian government, which is a close ally of the politically dominant Lebanese Shiite militant group, Hezbollah.
Mourners at the general’s funeral chanted against Assad and some waved the flags of the Free Syrian Army battling to oust him. Assad and much of the ruling elite belong to a sect considered an offshoot of Shiism, while the Free Syrian Army is dominated by Sunnis. And alongside the Syrian conflict, the car bombing that killed the general brought back smoldering grudges but also a feeling of dread left from Lebanon’s own bloody, 15-year civil war.
By Monday night, Lebanese state media said that at least four people were dead, at least 20 injured and nearly 50 under arrest in connection with clashes set off by the Beirut bombing. Three of those killed and most of the injuries were in the northern city of Tripoli near the Syrian border, a flash point for both sides of Syria’s sectarian divide.
In Washington on Monday, a State Department spokesman said that the United States would send an FBI team to help Lebanon investigate the bombing.