How to pick friends

The source of the latest violence in Lebanon is murky, at best. In the latest edition of the Cairo-based paper al-Ahram Weekly, some essential background:

Little ground support is evident for Fatah Al-Islam among the Lebanese or Palestinians and both, initially, backed army bombardment of Nahr Al-Bared. Palestinian outrage, however, mounted with the civilian death toll. By Wednesday morning, when an uneasy truce was in place allowing exhausted civilians to flee by the thousand, 22 militants and 32 soldiers had been killed, according to Reuters. Dead civilians officially number 27, but with access to Nahr Al-Bared remaining dangerous while many buildings have been reduced to rubble, that toll can only rise.

Fatah Al-Islam splintered from Syrian-backed Fatah Al-Intifada in November, both Damascus and the group deny any link between them. Fatah Al-Islam’s ideology is Al-Qaeda-style Salafism — anti-Shia and anti-US. Experts say most militia members are northern Lebanese, joined by Palestinians, Syrians, Saudis and other Arab nationalities.

A political split between the Sunni-dominated government of Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora and the Shia resistance group Hizbullah forms the backdrop to Fatah Al-Islam’s growth, according to Ahmed Moussalli, an expert on Islamist movements at the American University of Beirut.

“In Lebanon in the last few months it seems the Hariri group has been channelling funds and allowing weaponry to enter in order to create a Sunni militia… to bargain with Hizbullah,” Moussalli said. Saad Al-Hariri, Al-Siniora and the rest of Lebanon’s pro-US, anti-Syrian government have stepped up pressure on Hizbullah to disarm.

Moussalli proffers that Fatah Al-Islam, Jund Al-Sham and the larger Usbet Al-Ansar are all affiliated with Al-Qaeda by ideology and because of Iraq. “They found a haven in Lebanon to rest, train and recruit, in particular in north Lebanon, which has always been a hotbed for radical fundamentalists.”

The paper also has an interesting article about the difficult relationship between Iran and Egypt.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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