Sectarian Strife Breaks Out in Lebanon

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On Monday, sporadic violence in Lebanon broke out in wake of the Friday assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, a top Lebanese security official and longtime critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reuters is already calling the car bomb attack on Hassan and seven others "the most destabilizing attack in Lebanon" since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005. The civil war in neighboring Syria already divided Lebanon's rival Shi'ite and Sunni sects against each other (one side supporting Assad who belongs to the Shi'ite-based Alawite sect, the other side supporting Syria's Sunni opposition groups), but the killing of Hassan has poured gasoline on the pre-existing sectarian divisions. Here are the latest reports out the country: 

Explosions rock Beirut. Bloomberg's Donna Abu-Nasr reports that "scattered gunfire and at least one explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade" reverberated in Beirut today, with the official National News Agency reporting at least six injuries. "Smoke from burning tires and trash bins rose from the mostly Sunni area of Beirut’s Tareek al-Jadida and Cornich al-Mazra. The news agency reported heavy gunfire in that area today." The explosions follow the deaths of three people, including one child, who died on Saturday as sniper fire broke out in the northern city of Tripoli. Another violent exchange in Southern Lebanon resulted in the death of a man in Wadi Zaina. Today, Sunni Muslims have clashed with Lebanese soldiers across the country.  Reuters has captured video from some of the infighting below:

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Army urges "caution." The BBC reports that the Lebanese Army has issued a statement saying the last few hours "have proven without a doubt that the country is going through a decisive and critical time and the level of tension in some regions is rising to unprecedented levels." The army called on "all political leaders to be cautious when expressing their stances and opinions." saying that the "fate of the nation is at stake." The news service reports that the army has sent armored personnel carriers to restore calm and re-open roads barricaded by protesters. Many of the protesters have dug in their heels outside of Prime Minister Najib Mikati's office, calling for him to resign for his failure to protect the country from Syrian security forces. The thinking is that the Lebanese government has not done enough to protect the interests of Sunnis and the death of Hassan is just the latest manifestation of that. "Hassan's attacker did more than just kill Lebanon's most powerful intelligence brain, who collected data on all major players and uncovered several plots in recent years. The killer performed a public execution that sent a warning to all those who dared challenge Syria in Lebanon," notes Reuters.

France says Syria is probably involved with Hassan's murder. AFP reports that France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says the car bomb that killed Hassan probably involved Syria. "It is likely.... Everything indicates that this is an extension of the Syrian tragedy," Fabius told French TV. He accused Assad of exporting his country's conflict beyond Syria's borders. "I wish to express how much we condemn this dreadful attack, how much we are in solidarity with the Lebanese people and government," Fabius said.

Perpetrators of the killing are still unknown. Reuters' Samia Nakhoul reports that it is unknown if the attack originated from Syria or was some kind of other reprisal. "Hassan is thought to have been targeted because in August, after a carefully planned sting operation, his Internal Security Forces intelligence unit arrested a former Lebanese cabinet minister close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad." The New York Times has more details on the many facets of Hassan here. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has more on the historic tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite's in the country:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.