Lebanon is being dragged gradually but surely into the Syria cauldron.
After this week’s round of fighting between Alawite and Sunnite militias in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city bordering Syria, three statements made overnight are symptomatic:
One, the overlord of Lebanon’s Alawites says he has no qualms about inviting the Syrian Army to restore order in Tripoli.
Two, the “March 14” coalition, which is the Syrian regime’s nemesis in Lebanon, says it wants Arab countries and the international community to help protect Lebanon’s northern and eastern borders with Syria.
Three, President Bashar al-Assad tells a Russian broadcaster Lebanon and Jordan have been helping to thwart the infiltration of terrorists and the smuggling of arms because they were aware “chaos” in Syria could spread to them.
After the Lebanese Army curbed the May 12-14 clashes between Tripoli's two adjacent districts -- the predominantly Sunnite “Bab al-Tebbaneh” and the overwhelmingly Alawite “Jabal Mohsen” – Alawite chieftain Rifaat Eid talked tough at his Bab al-Tebbaneh stronghold.
He told a Wednesday press conference the latest clashes were instigated by the “March 14” coalition and “gifted” to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, who visited Lebanon in early May.
He described the cessation of violence in Tripoli as the “fighter’s rest,” adding: “Jabal Mohsen is paying the price of its political affinities with the resistance of (Hezbollah leader) Hassan Nasrallah, with the steadfastness of President Bashar al-Assad, with the missiles of Iran, with the Russian bear and with China.”
Eid said if the situation deteriorated further “there would be no solution left. Everyone should be aware that sliding further into the unknown would mean no one could pacify Lebanon except through the intervention of an Arab army. And no one would be able to do so except Syria. If you asked me my opinion, I have no problem with (the Syrian army coming in). Better this happened today than tomorrow…”
Parallel to Eid’s press conference, a statement by the “March 14” general secretariat was reiterating the coalition’s “political support for the Syrian revolution and its humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.”
The statement blamed the violence in Tripoli on “the Syrian regime’s attempts to export its internal crisis” to neighboring Lebanon, adding: “In view of repeated violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty by the Syrian regime’s army, such as the detonation of the situation in Tripoli and the attacks on the areas of Arida, Wadi Khaled, Ersal, el-Qaa and Jabal el-Sheikh, and in view of the (Lebanese) political authorities and security forces’ ineptitude to protect the northern and eastern borders with Syria, ‘March 14’ requests that Arab countries and the international community be solicited to do so in keeping with UN resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701.”
Speaking in an interview broadcast Wednesday on Russian state news channel Rossiya-24, Assad said Russia and China, who repeatedly expressed their support for Syria and backed the country in the UN Security Council, are not supporting him as head of state or his regime, but international stability.
“They [Russia and China] do not support me as president,” he said. “They promote stability in the region and have a very good understanding of Syria’s role and importance [in the Middle East].”
Without them Syria, as well as the region as a whole, “would be swept by chaos,” he said.
Assad said neighboring states like Lebanon and Jordan had been helping to thwart the shipment of weapons and the infiltration of fighters because they were aware the “chaos” could spread to them, and he said Europe and the West should be aware of the same danger in supporting the opposition.
Assad denounced the armed opposition as a gang of “criminals” who he said included religious extremists and members of al-Qaeda.
“It is not an army and it is not free,” he said, referring to the opposition’s Free Syrian Army.
“They get money and weapons from abroad from various countries. It is a group of criminals who have for years broken the law and received convictions. There are also religious extremists there like from al-Qaeda.”
Assad said, “Through the interrogation of terrorists, it became irrefutably clear weapons are being smuggled across the Syrian borders from neighboring countries and funds are being sent from people abroad… We have information about people leading these operations outside Syria and in several countries.
"There are bombs and mines placed in areas with civilians and may target civilians sometimes and they may target security forces or the police or the army… There are also-anti-tank weapons, which is new and serious… So all things point to the fact that there are countries responsible for armament and not individuals who may actually be fronts for these countries.
"Where do the weapons come from? From neighboring countries… (But) we cannot accuse them of being involved in the smuggling as it's difficult to control borders with surrounding countries..."