Lebanon — June 2007

Sociopolitical Situation

The war last summer between Hezbollah and Israel deepened the country’s political rift and led to call for a unity government from the opposition that would give it more say on national issues, a demand rejected by the parliamentary majority. Since November 2006, the dispute has focused on the call for an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of the former prime minister.

Israel continues to worry about the weapons to its north, and Hezbollah has done nothing to dissuade their fears, putting its strength on public display. Some political analysts argue that there is more than an 80 percent chance another war will happen this summer. This, they claim, comes from statements from Israel, Hezbollah and the United Nations.

Internally, a line of mixed-confessional areas, falling roughly between the mainly Shiite southern suburbs and Sunni-dominated western Beirut, have formed a new frontline of sorts in the latest tensions. The intensity of feeling between the two Muslim communities is relatively new and appears to some to add a new fault-line in an already fractured country. Sunni-Shiite tensions came to the fore in January when two days of clashes killed nine people in the worst sectarian strife since the country’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

On 21 May, a small — seemingly marginal — group of Islamic millitants in northern Lebanon demonstrated just how precarious the security situation is in the country. Gunmen belonging to Fatah al Islam, which is said to be an offshoot of the Syrian-based group Fatah al Intifada and linked to Al-Qaeda, resisted the authority of security forces who had raided a suspected Fatah al Islam warehouse in Tripoli following a bank robbery. This sparked a series of deadly clashes, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people in Tripoli. The situation has worsened since the attack. This extreme Islamicist group has overtaken several army positions in the Nahr el Bared Palestinian camp and has killed Lebanese soldiers.

Last summer’s hostilities have cost Lebanon dearly, with significant human loss, enormous physical destruction and the destruction of the economy, much of which is based on tourism. The hostilities created an enormous need for reconstruction.

Religious Situation

The council of Maronite bishops, in a declaration of the church’s principles, urged the leaders of the community and other Lebanese spiritual groups to agree on a “code of honor” to settle differences through dialogue, the rejection of violence and armed confrontations and to refrain from agitation.

In May 2007, Patriarch Nasrallah visited the Vatican, where he had a long talk with the Pope Benedict XVI and a number of officials of the Holy See concerned with Lebanon. The bishops stressed how much the pope is concerned for the Lebanese, especially the Christians who “guarantee the Christian presence in the Middle East.” The bishops made a strong appeal demanding that the established electoral timetable be respected and urged lawmakers to choose the new president through parliament, rejecting thus demands for constitutional changes. They also expressed their deepest concern for the deteriorating economic situation.

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