12/18/2019, 16.49
LEBANON
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US envoy arrives in Beirut, as the risk of war looms over Sunnis and Shias

by Pierre Balanian

David Hale has come with several demands to help Lebanon in crisis: a technocratic government, agreement on maritime and land borders with Israel, and a government with Nawaf Salam, not Hariri. More and more incidents are triggering clashes between Sunnis and Shias. Shia and Sunni clerics reject provocations. Violence broke out in Tripoli.

 

Beirut (AsiaNews) – US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale arrived in Beirut today. Some time ago, in an interview with the London-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat, he warned Lebanon "against a war that threatens all Lebanese".

Today he is in the country, which is on the brink of economic, political and social collapse, with clear tensions between Sunnis and Shias, as well as signs that someone is fuelling confessional divisions.

Hale knows Lebanon and its political leaders very well. In the 1990s he served there as counsellor and later as US ambassador.

A staunch foe of Hezbollah, which he accuses of creating a "climate to cripple the Lebanese people", he was appointed to the group of people mandated with demarcating the sea and land borders between Lebanon and Israel.

According to many sources, Hale comes with a series of demands for the Lebanese government as preconditions for helping the country climb out of its worst crisis since it was founded. The list includes the creation of a technocratic government without Hezbollah, a resolution of its border gas fields dispute with Israel, the release of dual US-Lebanese nationals arrested in Lebanon for collaborating and torturing prisoners during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon, and finally, the appointment of Nawaf Salam as prime minister in lieu of French-backed Hariri.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun postponed until tomorrow new talks over a new mandate for Hariri, at the latter’s request. Two nights ago, a group of 300 protesters gathered in front of the outgoing prime minister's house shouting "Saad will not return" to the tune of Jingle Bells.

Meanwhile, in central Beirut, protesters and the police clashed for three nights in a row until yesterday. However, it is now apparent that the protests include people bussed to Beirut, from Tripoli and other distant cities, people who speak with Syrian or Palestinian accent. It is widely believed that they are paid per day to protest, not in order to demand a better government, but to paralyse the country, cause disorder, and provoke clashes.

Some TV stations are also spreading fake news that fuel tensions. A few days ago for example, during the clashes between protesters and the police, a Shia imam in the Khandak el-Ghamik area in central Beirut called on Shias not to accept provocations and stay at home. Saudi-funded Al Arabiya TV instead reported live that the local imam was instigating young people from minarets to commit violence.

Another worrying sign that could spark fighting between Sunnis and Shias was the release of a video full of insults against Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah, the wife of Imam Ali and mother of Hassan and Hussein, all important figures in Shia Islam. The video went viral via WhatsApp and other social media.

Despite calls by Shia leaders to resist provocations that could trigger civil strife in the country, some young Shias took to the streets in Beirut, Sidon and Nabatiyeh, seeking revenge against the “blasphemous Sunnis”. In the capital, a protester voluntarily drove his car against five young Shias. Outraged, some Shia youths stopped and overturned the car and then set it on fire.

The Shia imam of Khandak el-Ghamik immediately intervened appealing for calm. He urged young Shias to go home for the sake of Imam Hussein. Other Shia leaders spoke out in person to calm the young men, asking them not to react.

Some Sunni imams also slammed the video. Pointing out that it is not representative of what Sunnis believe, they urged people to say No to those who want war between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon.

Later it was reported that the video’s author, Samer Saidaoui (picture 2), hails from Tripoli (northern Lebanon) and may live in Germany (others say in Greece). in Tripoli, the Saidaoui clan condemned the video.

"We have fought the Islamic State and given martyrs to save Shias, Sunnis and even Christians, freeing the monastery of Maaloula in Syria. And now they offend us with these blasphemies?” an angry young Shia told AsiaNews.

A Sunni called for an international arrest warrant against Samer Saidaoui to have him extradited to Lebanon to stand trial.

Early this morning, a group of people entered the office of a Sunni religious leader in Tripoli, Mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, and ransacked it. Afterwards they headed to one of the city's squares and torched a Christmas tree.

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