We haven’t written about Lebanon in a while but this one warrants a post as things might be about to get very hot and you’ll need it as background. Quick and dirty: a Palestinian jihadist outfit called Fatah al-Islam that’s based in the Pali refugee camp in Tripoli (in northern Lebanon) attacked two Lebanese army positions at the entrance to the camp this morning, seizing two armored carriers in the process, and then ambushed another unit. The NYT profiled the group in March; you can read all about them and their leader, a former deputy of Zarqawi’s named Shaker al-Abssi, right here. They claim to be affiliated with Al Qaeda and boast that they’re planning attacks on the United States; they also operate without interference from the Lebanese authorities due to the special quasi-sovereign status Pali refugee camps enjoy. That changed today, obviously, with the attack on the army. The Lebanese responded by shelling the camp and engaging the jihadis in gun battles. 22 soldiers have been killed in the fighting as well as 17 “militants,” including possibly Abssi’s deputy, Abu Yazan. Now, hours after the fighting broke out, a bomb’s gone off outside a mall in eastern Beirut. One woman is reported dead.
So what? Who cares? Well, here’s the twist: Fatah al-Islam might not be the renegade Al Qaeda offshoot it pretends to be. This short analysis in the JPost is a must-read, as is Anton Efendi’s surprisingly optimstic take at Across the Bay. Every time the UN moves a little closer to establishing the international tribunal to investigate Rafiq Hariri’s assassination — a tribunal that’s expected to point directly at the Syrian government — violence breaks out in Lebanon. In November the Security Council approved a draft plan for the tribunal; a few days later, anti-Syrian Lebanese cabinet member Pierre Gemayel was shot in the face while sitting in his car. Now another draft regarding the tribunal is before the Security Council — and what do you know, the Lebanese army is attacked and bombs are bursting in Beirut. The JPost:
It is known that the Syrian regime is determined to prevent this tribunal at all costs, since it is believed that senior Syrian officials may be found to have been involved in the Hariri killing. Could it be that the regime in Damascus might see an escalation of tension in Lebanon as currently helpful – as a tacit reminder to the international community of what Damascus is capable of when put in a corner? This is the view of senior officials in Lebanese government, and is in keeping with earlier practices of the Damascus regime.
So now you see how “productive” Pelosi’s — and Rice’s — outreach to Damascus has been.
There’ll be plenty more from Lebanon soon, I’m sure. Read the JPost and Efendi pieces so you’re caught up.
Update: Lebanese blogger Abu Kais has a nifty timeline of the day’s events as well as allegations that Assad’s been threatening the UN with just this sort of thing if they didn’t back off on the tribunal.
LBC is reporting a massive deployment of terrorists from Fatah al-Islam and other extremist groups in the north. According to retired army general Nizar Abdel Qader, Syrian intelligence has mobilized all of its extremist proxies in the north in an “organized operation” to spread chaos in the country, and to send a message to the UN Security Council, which is studying a resolution to establish the Hariri tribunal.