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Syria's Role In Lebanon's Conflagration

Introduction: The violence raging in Syria has begun to spill over into several areas in Lebanon, where riots have recently caused over ten civilian deaths. May 12, 2012 saw the outbreak of violence in Tripoli, near the Lebanon-Syrian border, as intense clashes occurred between Sunni Islamists and pro-Assad 'Alawites. Later, clashes also broke out between Islamists and Lebanese military forces that deployed in the city in an attempt to stop the violence. In the night between May 20 and 21, Sunni sheikh Ahmad 'Abd Al-Wahed was killed in the northern province of 'Akkar by gunfire of the Lebanese military.[1]

This incident caused the riots to spread to other areas in Lebanon, including the capital Beirut, where fighting broke out between supporters of Sa'd Al-Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal faction and supporters of the Syrian regime.[2] On May 22, eleven Shi'ite Lebanese nationals were kidnapped in Syria, reportedly by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This enraged Lebanese Shi'ites, who rioted in the Dahiya, south of Beirut, sparking fears of a retaliatory kidnapping on their part.[3] There were also reports of violent clashes – including mortar fire and mutual kidnappings – between Lebanese and Syrian families on either side of the border in the Beka' Valley. According to some sources, the clashes were actually between Hizbullah and FSA fighters.[4]

Voices in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world accused the Syrian regime of sparking the violence in Lebanon in an attempt to divert attention from the events in Syria and to export the crisis to Lebanon. Indeed, Arab and Lebanese press reports from the last three months indicate that the Assad regime is furious with the Lebanese government, headed by Najib Mikati, for its position on the Syrian crisis, and has even demanded that the Lebanese government change this position. According to these reports, Syria demanded that Lebanon assist it in fighting the uprising by arresting and extraditing Syrian refugees that have fled to Lebanon, including FSA fighters.

Lebanese_military_vehicles_in_TripoliLebanese military vehicles in Tripoli[5]

Conversely, Syria and the and its allies in Lebanon, the March 8 Forces, claim that Tripoli has become a stronghold of extremist Islamists and Al-Qaeda, who are collaborating with the FSA against Syria and smuggling fighters and arms into Syrian territory. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Al-Ja'afari, complained that areas in northern Lebanon have become hotbeds for Al-Qaeda terrorists, who receive weapons from certain Arab and Western states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are then smuggled into Syria.[7]

The_riots_spread_to_BeirutThe riots spread to Beirut[6]

Al-Ja'afari's appeal to Ban Ki-Moon sparked fears in Lebanon that Syria would launch a military intervention in the north of the country.[8] Apparently in response to Syria's appeal to Ban Ki-moon, four Gulf states (Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait) issued travel warnings for Lebanon and advised their citizens staying there to return.[9]

1. Syria Demands Extradition Of Syrian Refugees And Anti-Regime Activists Currently In Lebanon

In August 2011, as the Syrian crisis came up for debate in the UN Security Council, Lebanon, then a Security Council member, had to take an official position on the crisis. (It must be recalled that the current Lebanese government is dominated by Syria's allies and supporters). The UNSC ultimately issued a Presidential Statement condemning Syria, approved by 14 of its 15 members; Lebanon was the only member-state that did not support the statement, choosing instead to "dissociate itself" from the consensus.[10] In this manner, Lebanon avoided criticizing Syria while refraining from thwarting the condemnation. Since then, the Lebanese government has consistently defined its policy as one of "dissociating itself" from the Syrian crisis. Such a policy allows this government, which includes many allies of Assad, to avoid talking a clear stance against him, while refraining from explicitly condoning his actions.[11]

In practice, the policy of the Lebanese government since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising has largely been one of supporting the Syrian regime and cooperating with it.[12] This is evident, for example, in its failure to build camps for the 30,000 Syrian refugees that have fled to Lebanon and to provide them with sufficient aid.[13]

Syrian_refugees_in_LebanonSyrian refugees in Lebanon[14]

However, since March 2012, reports in the Lebanese press (on both sides of the political divide) have increasingly indicated that Syria expects Lebanon to abandon its position of "dissociation" and to tighten its cooperation with the Assad regime in its war against the Syrian opposition.

The daily Al-Safir, associated with the March 8 Forces, reported on March 5, 2012, citing a Syrian senior official, that Syria wanted Lebanon to hand over Syrian oppositionists involved in the fighting against it, based on agreements between the two countries. According to the daily, Syria warned Lebanon that anything harming Syria would ultimately harm Lebanon as well. The Syrian official told Al-Safir that his country was displeased with Lebanon's decision to let the Salafi movement hold an anti-Assad demonstration in central Beirut.[15] Similar reports appeared in April and May 2012 in Al-Akhbar, also associated with the March 8 Forces, and in Al-Nahar and Al-Mustaqbal, associated with the March 14 Forces.[16]

According to a May 14, 2012 report in Al-Nahar, the Syrian regime presented the Lebanese General Security apparatus with a list of Lebanese supporters of the Syrian opposition, and demanded their arrest. The daily added that the Syrian government had also presented the Mikati government with demands, including to abandon the "dissociation" policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis and to extradite Syrian fighters and oppositionists sheltered in Lebanon, in addition to several other demands pertaining to inter-Lebanese politics.[17] According to Lebanese Public Works Minister Ghazi Al-'Aridi, a senior Syrian official has presented the Lebanese foreign minister with a letter expressing Syria's anger that the Mikati government has joined the forces wishing to harm Syria.[18]

Mikati's office denied the reports about the Syrian demands, and reaffirmed Lebanon's commitment to the "dissociation" policy.[19] However, various events and reports provide further evidence of Lebanon's capitulation to the Syrian dictates. In late April, Al-Akhbar reported that Lebanon's military intelligence had tightened its monitoring of Syrians arriving in the Beka' Valley (in eastern Lebanon), with the aim of identifying FSA fighters and other oppositionists involved in fighting the Syrian regime.[20] Furthermore, Mikati said on April 29, 2012 that "the issue of the Syrian refugees should not be treated as a human rights [issue] at the expense of Lebanon's security."[21]

Was The Arrest That Sparked The Violence Carried Out At Syria's Demand?

The violence in Tripoli and other parts of Lebanon erupted after the May 12, 2012 arrest of a Salafi youth, Shadi Al-Mawlawi, who was detained by the Lebanese authorities on suspicion of membership in Al-Qaeda.[22] The March 14 Forces claimed that his arrest was part of Lebanon's compliance with Syrian dictates in the last few months.[23] Furthermore, Al-Mawlawi was arrested by the General Intelligence apparatus, which, as mentioned, was presented by the Syrians with a list of individuals to be arrested. This body is headed by 'Abbas Ibrahim, a Shi'ite figure known to be close to Hizbullah, who was appointed on July 2011 by the Mikati government, dominated by Hizbullah and its allies from the March 8 Forces.[24] The arrest sparked intense criticism in Lebanon against the General Intelligence apparatus. It was claimed that this body had no authority to arrest citizens inside Lebanon, since its operations were supposed to be confined to the Lebanese borders and airports.[25] Moreover, 'Abbas Ibrahim himself admitted that he had visited Syria and met with Syrian officials only three days before Al-Mawlawi's arrest.[26]

Tripoli_protesters_celebrate_Al-Mawlawis_releaseTripoli protesters celebrate Al-Mawlawi's release[27]

The rapid snowballing of the Tripoli riots comes as no surprise, considering the considerable presence of Sunni streams and forces in the city, alongside pro-Assad 'Alawites. Years-long tension exists between Bab Al-Tabbanah, a Sunni neighborhood, and Jabel Muhsen, an 'Alawite neighborhood, and the recent riots were not the first time this tension has erupted into gunfights.[28] Another factor that adds to the tension is the presence of extremist Islamist groups and movements in the city, some of them armed. In the past six months, these forces have grown increasingly furious over the ongoing detention of some 200 Islamists who were arrested in 2007 on suspicion of membership in Fath Al-Islam,[29] and have since then been held without trial.[30] An Islamist sit-down protest over this affair, in Tripoli's Al-Nour Square, has been ongoing since early May 2012.[31]

Most of the city's Sunnis openly support the Syrian opposition, and have held rallies over the last year in solidarity with the Syrian people and against the Assad regime. On April 28, 2012, the Al-Mustaqbal faction joined this activity by holding its first rally in solidarity with the Syrian people.[32] This faction, as part of the March 14 Forces, has also led the criticism against the Lebanese government for failing to help the Syrian refugees in the country.[33] In addition, private charities, some of them associated with various political factions or Islamist streams in Tripoli, have begun to extend aid to the Syrian refugees.[34] All these factors contributed to the tension in the city, so that a single spark was sufficient to set off an explosion.

The March 14 Forces accused that fanning the flames in Tripoli was Syria's way of telling the Lebanese that they must stop helping the refugees and hand them over to Syria.[35] In an interview on the "Russia 24" TV channel, several days after Al-Mawlawi's arrest, Bashar Assad praised the Lebanese authorities for starting to fight the infiltration of weapons and fighters from Lebanon into Syria. He said that Lebanon had realized that sowing anarchy in Syria would eventually come back to harm it.[36]

Al-Mustaqbal_rally_in_solidarity_with_Syrian_peopleAl-Mustaqbal rally in solidarity with Syrian people[37]

2. March 14 Forces, SaudiArabia: Syria Responsible For Conflagration In Lebanon

The March 14 Forces, as well as other elements in Lebanon – including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya movement (the Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood) – accused Syria of being behind the recent conflagration in Lebanon, which lasted about a week.[38] Similar claims were made by Saudi officials. Saudi Foreign Minister Sa'ud Al-Faisal said that the Syrian accusations that the Gulf states were arming the Syrian opposition were nonsense, and that Syria's interference in Lebanon was unjustified; Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon 'Ali Al-Asiri said that the Syrian regime had triggered the events in Lebanon in an attempt to export its domestic crisis.[39] Many articles in the Saudi press accused Syria, Iran, and pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon of destabilizing this country in an attempt to draw attention away from the crisis in Syria, and also in an attempt to threaten the world that they are capable of causing an explosion there.[40] The March 14 Forces even demanded to involve the Arab and international community in defending the Lebanese-Syrian border.

According to the proponents of this position, Syria could have several motives to destabilize Lebanon: [41]

1.      Diverting regional and global attention away from the Syrian crisis.

2.      Justifying Assad's claims that his forces are not battling the Syrian people protesting against the regime, but rather jihad and terrorist organizations that infiltrate Syria via Lebanon, among other countries.

3.      Signaling to the international community that the Syrian regime is capable of sparking a conflagration in Lebanon if they continue to put pressure on it.

4.      Reminding the international community that it needs the Assad regime in order to preserve quiet and stability in Lebanon, as has been the case since Syria entered Lebanon in 1976, ending the civil war that was raging there at the time.

5.      Painting Lebanon, and especially Tripoli, as a base of activity for Al-Qaeda and other jihad organizations, and the Al-Mustaqbal faction, headed by Sa'd Al-Hariri (whose stronghold is Tripoli), as a supporter of terrorism by claiming that the March 14 Forces, and chiefly the Al-Mustaqbal faction, are party to the war against the Assad regime.

6.      Diverting global attention away from the issue of Hizbullah and its arsenal in Lebanon, and portraying Tripoli, the Al-Mustaqbal faction, and the armed Islamists in the city as the source of problems in Lebanon.

7.      Attempting to sow dissent among the Sunnis in Tripoli.

Exporting Crises to Lebanon and Destabilizing It – A Syrian Tactic

The March 14 Forces and other elements in Lebanon argued that exporting Syrian crises to Lebanon, and portraying northern Lebanon as a hotbed of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, is a common tactic by the Syrian regime. According to them, the scenario that led to the recent events in the city, which included sending the Jordanian Al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Yousuf 'Othman 'Abd Al-Salam from Syria to Lebanon (which led to Al-Mawlawi's arrest) is reminiscent of previous scenarios. As an example, they claimed that, in 2007, Syria released Shaker Al-'Abssi from prison and sent him to Lebanon to start the Fath Al-Islam organization, in order to destabilize Lebanon and portray it as a center of Al-Qaeda activity that threatens Syria.[42]

Another crisis erupted between Syria and Lebanon in September 2009 after Bashar Al-Assad declared that northern Lebanon had become a center of terrorism threatening his country, and reinforced Syrian troops along the north Lebanese border. Syria also demanded that Lebanese president Michel Suleiman reinforce his own troops along the border, fearing destabilization in Lebanon. Assad and his Lebanese allies accused Saudi Arabia and the March 14 Forces of aiding and supporting fundamentalist forces in Lebanon, including a Fath Al-Islam cell that had carried out a bombing in Damascus in September 2008. In response, Saudi Arabia and the March 14 Forces claimed that the Syrian regime had created Fath Al-Islam in order to destabilize Lebanon and as a way to divert global attention away from the crisis in Syria.[43]

3. Syrian Supporters: Saudi Arabia, U.S. Encourage The Establishment Of A Salafi Emirate In Northern Lebanon

As mentioned, Syria and its Lebanese allies, the March 8 Forces, claimed that Tripoli is a center for activity by extremist Salafis, Al-Qaeda, Fath Al-Islam, and the Free Syrian Army, who are all working against Syria.[44] Syria even appealed to the UN Secretary-General, claiming that parts of northern Lebanon have become a hotbed of Al-Qaeda activity, and that certain Arab and Western countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are providing the terrorists with weapons that are smuggled into Syria.[45]

The pro-Syrian daily Al-Akhbar claimed that Saudi Arabia was behind the recent strengthening of Salafi forces in Lebanon, and that the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, 'Ali Al-'Asiri, has a long history of maintaining ties with radical Islamists, including Al-Qaeda. Al-Akhbar added that, since his arrival in Beirut, Al-'Asiri has been promoting Salafi forces, so as to create a Sunni counterweight to the Shi'ite Hizbullah in the Lebanese balance of power.[46] Syria and its allies also claimed that extremist Salafi forces in Lebanon wish to establish a Salafi emirate in the north – a kind of counterpart to the Dahiya, Hizbullah's stronghold south of Beirut – which would become a base providing fighters and weapons for the war against the Syrian regime.[47]

Moreover, some claimed that the idea of establishing a "Dahiya" in the north was put forward by two American officials who recently visited Lebanon: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, and Senator Joe Lieberman. At a press conference on May 16, 2012, Rif'at 'Id, a Tripoli 'Alawite and a senior member of Lebanon's Arab Democratic party, who is close to the Assad regime, said, "What happened in Tripoli in the last three days is a gift from Jeffrey Feltman and Joseph Lieberman, and is the result of their visit to Lebanon."[48] According to Al-Akhbar columnist Jean 'Aziz, the March 8 Forces have discussed the possibility that, during his recent visit to Lebanon (on May 2, 2012), Jeffrey Feltman explicitly advised the March 14 Forces to establish a closed zone in the north with an armed security presence, after the model of Hizbullah's Dahiya, in order to "counterbalance [Hizbullah's] weapons with weapons [of their own]"[49] Michel 'Aoun, chairman of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc and another Syrian ally in Lebanon, also claimed that Feltman's and Lieberman's visit to northern Lebanon was meant to prepare the ground for the Tripoli events, in anticipation of turning the area into a source of aggression against Syria.[50]

Gunman_in_Al-Tabbanah_TripoliGunman in Al-Tabbanah, Tripoli[51]

Renewed Talks On The Possibility Of Syria Reentering Lebanon

Since the eruption of the violent events in Lebanon, Syria's allies there have resumed claims that Lebanon is a province of Syria. Ibrahim Al-Amin, board chairman of the pro-Syrian Al-Akhbar, claimed at the start of the Tripoli riots that Lebanon was part of Syria: "This is the first time that everyone in Lebanon acknowledges that Syria is our country, or, more accurately, our greater country. That is where the fate of the Arab region called 'Lebanon' shall be determined..."[52]

Pro-Syrian Lebanese officials, including Lebanese minister 'Ali Kanso, warned of the spread of violence from Tripoli to other areas in Lebanon. Some even welcomed a reentry by the Syrian army as a way to maintain stability in the country. On May 16, 2012, Rif'at 'Id  warned that events might deteriorate to the point that "no solution will be possible... and no one will be able to restore calm, other than by an Arab military intervention." He added: "No one has the ability to do this but Syria. If you ask my opinion, I do not object and have no problem [with this option], and the sooner the better."[53]

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, chairman of The National Struggle Front, who, since the eruption of violence in Syria has resumed attacking the Assad regime, warned that Syria wants to annex Lebanon: "The Syrian regime has already staged several wars and assassinations in Lebanon... [The Syrians] want to annex Lebanon [to Syria]..."[54]

4. Is Lebanon On Brink Of Civil War?

The recent violent outbreak in Lebanon has exacerbated the ever-present sectarian tensions in the country, so much so that some in Lebanon and the Arab world fear a Sunni-Shi'ite confrontation and even a new civil war. On May 22, 2012, Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz sent a letter to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, in which he stressed that Saudi Arabia was following the Tripoli clashes with concern, especially since they were "targeting one of the major sects in Lebanese society" (referring to the Sunnis). According to the king, Saudi Arabia supports Lebanon, but this support will not help if Lebanese elements focus not on the interests of their homeland but on narrow group interests, as a service to foreign elements who do not wish what is best for Lebanon and for the Arab region. King 'Abdallah warned that the crisis could develop into sectarian fitna in Lebanon, and even into civil war.[55]

Another indication of these concerns is a recent UNIFIL drill (on May 20, 2012) to evacuate all the organization's civilian workers and their families from the city of Tyre in case of emergency.[56] Similarly, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon revealed that the Saudi embassy in Beirut has formulated a security plan to evacuate Saudi citizens from Lebanon by air and sea, should the need arise.[57]

Calls In Tripoli To Form 'Free Lebanese Army'

A further reflection of the peaking sectarian tensions is a statement by Sunni Sheikh Ahmad Al-Rifa'i. Following the death of Sunni Sheikh Ahmad 'Abd Al-Wahed from Lebanese military fire 'Akkar in May 2012, Al-Rifa'i warned the military, the prime minister, and all Lebanese elements that if the incident wasn't addressed swiftly, "the sheikhs would be forced to establish a 'Free Lebanese Army.'"[58] Following this statement, it was reported that activists at a sit-down strike in the center of Tripoli had called to establish a Free Lebanese Army, and had urged Lebanese soldiers to defect from the "Crusader Army."[59]

Editors Of Dailies In Lebanon And Elsewhere: Lebanon Is A Collection Of Small Adversarial Countries, On Brink Of Civil War

Tallal Salman, board chairman and editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, and Ibrahim Al-Amin, board chairman of Al-Akhbar likewise pointed at Lebanon's slide towards sectarian war. Both claimed in articles they published that Lebanon is no longer a single country but rather a collection of small sectarian countries at war with one another.[60]

In an article titled "Sectarian War Reaches Lebanon," 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, editor of the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, warned that Lebanon is facing a harsh and bloody civil war that will be even worse than the last one: "Lebanon is currently witnessing a state of sectarian ferment that is unprecedented, at least since the signing of the Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war after 16 years of bloodshed... It is only natural that the rising tensions in Syria should affect its Lebanese neighbor in some way, considering the sectarian tension [in Lebanon]. However, when matters escalate to this level of bloody clashes, it means the country faces a new civil war that could last years, and might even be bloodier than its predecessor... Tension in Lebanon has reached an explosive level and is only waiting for a match [to ignite it]. We do not rule out the possibility that the assassination of Sheikh 'Abd Al-Wahed at a Lebanese army checkpoint will be the incident that sets off the explosion...

"When three Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE - warn their citizens against visiting Lebanon,[61] and demand that those already there leave immediately, it implies that a large and deadly explosion is expected in the country in the coming days... [These countries] no doubt have concrete information regarding secret scenarios planned for Lebanon and Syria... The noose is tightening around [the necks] of the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon. The war of attrition meant to topple the Syrian regime has entered a new phase, and conflagration in Lebanon could be one of the scenarios of this stage..."[62]

*H. Varulkar and E. B. Picali are research fellows at MEMRI.

© 1998-2012, The Middle East Media Research Institute All Rights Reserved Endnotes:

[1] Ahmad 'Abd Al-Wahed was a prominent and influential sheikh, and a key anti-Assad activist in the province. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 21, 2012.

[2] Al-Akhbar, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 21, 22, 2012.

[3] The FSA denied kidnapping the Lebanese nationals. Elements in the Syrian opposition speculated that the Syrian regime had  abducted them in order to destabilize Lebanon. Al-Akhbar, Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 23, 2012; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 23, 24, 2012.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 16, 2012; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 14, 17, 2012.

[5] Image source: Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 21, 2012.

[6] Image source: Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 18, 2012.

[7] Al-Ja'afari called on the UN to hold these countries accountable for funding this terrorism and arming the terrorists. Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 18, 2012; Al-Watan (Syria), May 20, 2012.

[8] In his letter, Al-Ja'afari named certain northern Lebanese towns as involved in terrorism against Syria. A representative of these towns expressed concern over a possible Syrian attack against them. Rozana bu Munsif, a columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, likewise warned that Al-Ja'afari's letter to the UN would be followed by "an increase in Syrian interference in Lebanon and in security and military [operations] carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorists..." Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 20, 2012; Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 19, 2012.

[9] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 20, 22, 2012. This step triggered angry responses against these countries in Lebanon itself. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 21, 2012.

[10] Un.org, August 3, 2011.

[11] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 5, 2011, May 15, 2012.

[12] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 763, "The Mikati Government in Lebanon – Continued Subjugation to the Syrian Patron," November 23, 2011, http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/259/0/5856.htm.

[13] Alarabiya.net, May 12, 2012; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 22, 29, 2012; Al-Safir (Lebanon), April 6, 2012; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 8, 2012. See also MEMRI  Special Dispatch No.4624, "Lebanon Intensifies Its Anti-U.S., Pro-Syrian Stance," April 2, 2012, http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/259/0/6239.htm.

[14] Image source: alhadathnews.net, March 23, 2012.

[15] The demonstration, held on March 4, 2012, was organized by Ahmad Al-Asir, a Salafi sheikh from Sidon. Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 5, 2012.

[16] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 21, 2012; Al-Nahar (Lebanon), April 25, 2012; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 4, 2012; Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 5, 2012.

[17] For example, to pass a new election law instating proportional representation ahead of next year's parliamentary election, and to meet various political demands presented by Michel 'Aoun. Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[18] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[19] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 15, 2012.

[20] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 25, 2012. According to the daily, Lebanon also presented Syria, at the latter's request, with a report on the arms ship captured off the northern shores of Lebanon, whose cargo was reportedly intended for the Syrian  opposition. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 10, 2012.

[21] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 30, 2012.

[22] Al-Akhbar, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[23] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 15, 18, 2012.

[24] Elaph.com, July 18, 2011.

[25] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 14, 2012; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 15, 2012. According to this position, arrests inside Lebanon are the domain of the Domestic Security Apparatus, headed by Ashraf Rifi, who is close to Al-Hariri's March 14 Forces.

[26] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 15, 16, 2012; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 16, 2012.

[27] New-lebanese.com, May 23, 2012.

[28] Ironically, the two neighborhoods are separated by a boulevard called "Syria Street."

[29] In May, 2007, Fath Al-Islam took over the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. It controlled the camp for several months, during which it clashed with the army, causing the death of dozens of soldiers and civilians. The March 14 Forces claimed that Syria had armed and trained Fath Al-Islam in retaliation for the creation of the international tribunal for investigating the Rafiq Al-Hariri assassination. Conversely, Syria and its allies (headed by Hizbullah) accused the Lebanese government at the time, and especially Al-Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal faction, of forming and arming Fath Al-Islam, and claimed that it was connected to Al-Qaeda. See MEMRI documents:

Inquiry & Analysis Series - No. 362, "Who Is Behind Fath Al-Islam?", June 11, 2007, www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/2233.htm;

Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 365, "Syrian Efforts to Deny Fath Al-Islam Affiliation With Syrian Intelligence," June 22, 2007,

www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/2254.htm;

Special Dispatch No. 1747, "In Letter to U.N. Secretary-General, Lebanese Prime Minister Accuses Syria of Being Behind Fath Al-Islam," November 1, 2007, www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/2433.htm;

Special Dispatch No. 1880, "Lebanon Publishes New Evidence of Ties Between Syria and Fath Al-Islam," April 09, 2008, www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/2607.htm.

[29] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[30] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 19, 2012; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 17, 2012.

[31] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[32] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 29, 2012.

[33] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 5, 2012.

[34] Al-Akhbar, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 29, 2012.

[35] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 18, 2012.

[36] Arabic.rt.com, May 17, 2012.

[37] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 29, 2012.

[38] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 24, 2012; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 16, 2012; Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 17, 2012.

[39] Al-Balad (Lebanon), May 14, 2012; Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 23, 2012.

[40] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 18, 2012; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 20, 21, 2012; Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), May 23, 2012.

[41] Elnashra.com, May 16, 2012.

[42] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 14, 15, 17, 2012; Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 17, 2012.

[43] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 487, "Rising Inter-Arab Tensions: Saudi Arabia and Egypt versus Syria and Iran Part III – Syria, Saudi Arabia Clash over Fath Al-Islam", December 22, 2008, http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/3139.htm.

[44] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), Al-Ba'th (Syria), May 18, 2012.

[45] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 18, 2012; Al-Watan (Syria), May 20, 2012.

[46] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 24, 2012. It should be mentioned that the Saudi embassy in Lebanon denied the allegations. Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 25, 2012.

[47] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 16, 2012.

[48] www.elnashra.com, May 16, 2012.

[49] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 19, 2012.

[50] Al-Watan (Syria), May 20, 2012.

[51] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[52] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 14, 2012.

[53] Al-Mustaqbal, Al-Safir (Lebanon),  May 17, 2012.

[54] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 17, 2012.

[55] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia) May 23, 2012.

[56] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 20, 2012.

[57] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 23, 2012.

[58] www.nowlebanon.com, May 20, 2012.

[59] www.elnashra.com, May 20, 2012.

[60] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 21, 2012; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 24, 2012.

[61] As a matter of fact, the three countries that issued travel warnings for Lebanon on May 19 were the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain. They were joined by Kuwait on May 21. Saudi Arabia has thus far not issued a travel warning for Lebanon.

[62] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 21, 2012
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