Thursday, 7 February 2008

After Bloody Sunday

Nicholas Blanford of The Christian Science Monitor reports on the rising sectarian tensions following "Black Sunday", when the army (and others as yet unadentified gunmen) killed seven fuel protesters in a Shia neighbourhood:

The events of that day have spurred intense accusations and recriminations from rival political factions, further souring already strained sectarian tensions in Beirut and stoking worries of more violence to come.

It has also placed the Lebanese Army on the defensive as it struggles to maintain its neutrality, even as its soldiers in recent days have come under rifle fire and grenade attack, apparent reprisals for last month's deaths.

The Army is the one state institution to have remained neutral in Lebanon's worsening political crisis. Many Lebanese believe that the military alone is preventing the country from sliding into chaos, and worry about the consequences of the Army disintegrating along political lines...

As news of the shootings spread through the neighborhood, residents say dozens of men carrying rifles and rocket-propelled grenades headed toward the scene, before being persuaded to turn back by Hizbullah commanders.

However, some angry Shiite demonstrators charged into the adjacent Christian neighborhood of Ain Rummaneh, damaging cars and breaking windows before troops could disperse them.

Tensions between Ain Rummaneh and the adjacent Shiite neighborhood, Shiyyah, have existed since the 1975-90 civil war. The former Green Line dividing east and west Beirut during the war runs down the street separating the two quarters, and some buildings still bear the scars of that earlier conflict.

Although the main sectarian fault-line in today's political crisis is between Shiites and Sunnis, tensions have been building once more between Shiyyah and Ain Rummaneh, residents say.

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