More Steps in the Drift toward Civil Strife

A fresh rash of incidents betokening civil unrest has erupted in Lebanon, which has been without a president since last November.

Thursday, Jan. 24, HIzballah-backed syndicates of farmers and public transport workers declared a one-day strike. They clashed with the military contingents heavily deployed in the streets of the towns and at numerous checkpoints, amid reports that the Hizballah-led opposition was planning a fresh wave of street protests.

Monday, demonstrators protesting alleged power cuts burned rubber tires and blocked traffic in one Beirut district after another.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that the tension is building up for Jan. 27, when Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa is due to hand in to Arab foreign ministers a final report on his meetings with Lebanese and Syrian leaders, in a bid to end Lebanon’s presidential crisis. It is feared that the warring factions – the ruling majority March 14 bloc headed by the pro-Western Saad Hariri and prime minister Fouad Siniora and the pro-Syrian Hizballah-led bloc, will come to blows.

The threat of internecine violence is generated by three events:

1. Syria and Hizballah have finally derailed the candidacy of chief of staff Gen. Michel Suleiman for president and so defeated the US-French initiative for resolving the standoff. While President George W. Bush warned Syria against meddling in Lebanese politics during his Middle East tour, Damascus has made no bones about its insistence on choosing Lebanon’s president.

2. Amr Mussa failed in his mission to bring Lebanon’s warring camps together to choose a president. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that on Jan. 19, the Egyptian diplomat escaped an attempt on his life. A large bomb-rigged vehicle was discovered by Lebanese security officials parked on the road near the border his convoy was due to travel on his way back from talks in Damascus to Lebanon. It was geared for remote detonation.

3. The Saudi King Abdullah has decided to punish Syrian president Bashar Assad over Lebanon by preventing the next Arab League summit taking place in Damascus next March. He is trying to convene an earlier emergency Arab summit on the Gaza situation to supersede a Damascus conference. Lebanese security officials fear that a showdown between the two rulers will generate an outbreak of terrorist attacks on Saudi supporters and Saudi targets in Beirut.

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