Terrorist attacks and the government's response have killed more than 30 people in Lebanon overnight. At least one of the factions has ties to al-Qaeda, and some believe Syria may have quarterbacked these latest uprisings in an attempt to undermine the Lebanese government:
Government soldiers Sunday battled members of an Islamic group at a refugee camp near the Syrian border and in a nearby coastal city, with at least 33 people killed in the worst bloodshed here in almost a year.
A bomb went off before midnight in an affluent Christian neighborhood of Beirut, killing one woman and injuring five other people, relief workers said. It was unclear whether the explosion was connected to the earlier fighting in the north.
The heavy, daylong combat stoked fears among many Lebanese that neighbor Syria was involved and trying to foment unrest at a crucial time.
Throughout the day, Lebanese soldiers shelled the Nahr Bared camp, home to thousands of Palestinian refugees as well as the militant Sunni group Fatah al-Islam, which has been linked to Al Qaeda. About 10 miles to the southwest in Tripoli, Fatah al-Islam fighters barricaded themselves in an upscale apartment block and fought soldiers with grenades and machine guns for 10 hours before being overrun.
The militants, who have been accused of having ties with Syria, also battled security forces elsewhere in Tripoli and attacked an army checkpoint outside the coastal city, killing several soldiers in one strike, officials and witnesses said.
The involvement of al-Qaeda demonstrates the rising influence of radical Islamists in northern Lebanon. Previously, Hezbollah represented the Islamist faction in Lebanon, and they stayed almost exclusively in the south, where they claimed a mandate of protecting Lebanon from Israel. Now the UN refugee camps in the north, where Nahr-el-Bared sits on the coast north of Tripoli, have become infiltration targets for AQ as well as the normal Palestinian terrorist groups.
How much does Syria have to do with these new Islamist inroads? Everyone knows that Hezbollah is a Syrian client, but this is the first time that accusations have come out that Syria funds the Sunni-dominated AQ network. Fatah al-Islam is an offshoot of the Syrian-backed Fatah al-Intifada, which works to support the more secular partisans in the Palestinian Authority, and its leader denies any connection to Syria.
However, he may have some diplomatic reasons to hide those connections. Fatah al-Islam's leader Shaker Abbsi is wanted by the US in connection to the murder of our diplomat in Jordan in 2002. If Fatah al-Islam revealed its Syrian connections, then we would have a serious change in posture towards Damascus, one which Bashar Assad would prefer to avoid.
And where is the UN in all of this? It's their refugee camp which has fostered these groups and allowed them to operate openly. Shouldn't the UN be disarming people in refugee camps? Or have they abandoned that mandate, as they have abandoned others?