Along the fault lines

2013 was a year of worrying violence in Lebanon

Lebanon is no stranger to the horrors of violence, proxy wars, sectarian strife, stagnant reforms, economic woes and refugee crises. In 2013 all of these afflictions have pushed the country into one of its worst security and social crises in years.

Violence from neighboring Syria spilled over into Lebanon — in the form of kidnappings, cross-border shelling and car bombings.

A car bomb on July 9 in the Beirut suburb of Beir al-Abed wounded dozens of people. On August 15, a previously unknown Syrian opposition group, the Aisha Brigades, claimed responsibility for a car bombing in the Rweiss suburb of Beirut that killed more than two dozen people and injured hundreds more. Eight days later, on August 23, car bombings targeted two mosques in Tripoli where sheikhs who support the Syrian opposition were giving sermons, leaving more than 40 dead and 400 wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for these bombings, but arrest warrants have been issued for members of the Arab Democratic Party which is allied with the Syrian government. 

On November 19, a twin suicide bombing in front of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut killed at least 23 people and injured nearly 150. Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the religious leader of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon, announced on his Twitter account that the group was behind the attack, citing the presence of Hezbollah’s forces in Syria fighting for the government and the detention of Islamists in Lebanon as justifications.

Sectarian tensions in 2013, exacerbated by the conflict in Syria and a climate of impunity for gunmen, led to deadly clashes in Tripoli and Saida. In May, gunmen from the Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhoods in Tripoli clashed, killing at least 28 and wounding more than 200. In October, a week of fighting between those neighborhoods left at least 13 more dead and 91 wounded.

The government finally implemented a security plan for Tripoli and deployed units of both the army and Internal Security Forces to the city in November. However, it failed to take steps needed to protect residents, such as confiscating weapons, arresting and prosecuting fighters, and maintaining an active security presence.

Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon topped 816,000 in November, and with limited international support the Lebanese government struggled to meet the refugees’ needs. According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the $1.2 billion appeal for refugees in Lebanon was only 51percent funded as of October 31. On November 1, UNHCR began eliminating basic assistance for 30 percent of the refugees from Syria in Lebanon due to the funding shortfall, further debilitating the vulnerable.

Lebanon, the last of Syria’s neighboring countries to maintain an open border policy, has borne an enormous burden as it continues  to receive refugees. But closing the border to those fleeing death and persecution — as the government began to do in August when it started turning away Syrian Palestinians — is not the answer. 

The Lebanese poor are bearing perhaps the greatest burden of the refugee crisis in Lebanon. In an October report, the World Bank found that as a result of the conflict in Syria up to 170,000 Lebanese could slide into poverty and that unemployment could increase by 10 percent by the end of 2014.

Amid the violence and crippled economy, Lebanon suffered from a familiar lack of leadership. Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in early 2013, and politicians still have not formed a new government. Draft laws to stop torture, improve the treatment of migrant domestic workers, protect women from domestic violence, and end discrimination against women under personal status laws — all issues of chronic concern in Lebanon — remain stalled in parliament.

In 2014, Lebanese need to see a government that will step up to fill security vacuums, arrest and prosecute those responsible for violence, and confiscate weapons of war. If the abuses are to stop, there can be no impunity.

The government should also do more to meet the needs of historically underserved communities such as Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh and those in border areas including Wadi Khaled and Arsal. Residents in these communities lack employment opportunities and adequate infrastructure and services and suffer the consequences of the burgeoning refugee population.

Finally, donor countries should give more generously so Lebanon can continue to meet its commitments to the growing refugee population and to shore up infrastructure, health services and the beleaguered local economy. Only then can Lebanon be expected to continue to bear the weight of this crisis.

Lama Fakih is Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch

Lama Fakih

Lama Fakih is the Syria and Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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