03/26/2007, 00.00
LEBANON
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Jihadists see divided Lebanon as a land of conquest

British Minister of State Kim Howells warns that infiltrations from Iraq are occurring. In Beirut opinions are divided over Lebanon’s delegation to Arab Summit in Riyadh. Patriarch Sfeir warns that it is “as if there are two 'Lebanons'.”

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Sunni jihadists are moving into Lebanon from Iraq and other Mideast countries, infiltrating Palestinian refugee camps, because they regard the country as a soft target for their war against the West, British Minister of State at the Foreign Office Kim Howells warned. This confirms that the recent political confrontation in Lebanon is turning violent.

The current split between majority and opposition that is reflected in the division between state institutions—government vs presidency—might even affect Lebanon’s delegation to the Arab Summit scheduled to start in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday. In fact, Lebanon’s crisis will be one of the issues on the table. But President Émile Lahoud and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora both announced that each will lead a Lebanese delegation, which will mean that Lebanon will be represented by two delegations.

“The Lebanese are once again divided as if there were two 'Lebanons' and this is more dangerous than anything for a nation,” Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said. Instead of working together, the representatives of the people have split into two factions facing each other and “constitutional institutions” are pitted one against the other.

Given the situation, Howells’s warning of infiltration by extremists in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps, which are home to about 400,000 predominantly Sunni refugees, takes on an ominous significance. These camps are no-go areas for the Lebanese army and security.

The British Minister’s warning has shown that the West must be careful that offsetting Hezbollah’s Shia extremism—backed by Iran and Syria—does not play into the hands of another kind of extremism.

For instance, Lebanese Sunni cleric and former MP Fathi Yakan, said on al-Jazeera TV on March 16, 2007, that “Osama bin Laden has a high level of faithfulness, trustworthiness, and transparency.”

Yakan is the founder and head of the Lebanese Islamist Front and was secretary-general of the Lebanese Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya group.

Separately, senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah appealed yesterday to Arab leaders attending the Riyahd Summit, urging them to shun away from personal interests and think of “the general welfare of the Arabs.”

In his opinion, “recent developments on the Lebanese political scene once again demonstrate that the US administration works on hindering any sort of solutions to the three-month long deadlock.”

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