Syria’s Problems Leak Across the Border
The Sunday death of Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed, a Sunni religious leader, could prove to be pivotal to the situation in Northern Lebanon. Abdel-Wahed’s killing at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in the Akkar district, less than 10 miles from the Syrian border, could prove to be the flashpoint for the spread of violence from Syria to Lebanon.
Lebanon’s Daily Star reported the withdrawal of Lebanese military forces from the area to avoid further angering Abdel-Wahed’s supporters, and there were reports of Sunni gunmen around Akkar at night. Lebanon’s capital also felt the event’s repercussions with clashes between the predominantly Sunni Future Movement and the rival Arab Movement.
Abdel-Wahed’s funeral in the village of Bireh, also in Akkar district, provoked gunfire from his supporters in a demonstration of opposition to the Syrian government. This led to clashes with pro-Syrian groups, and is the first major outbreak of violence in Lebanon linked to the unrest across the border.
Abdel-Wahed’s significance, aside from his religious leadership, lay in his new position at the head of a local council, where he would have had the means to further his agenda of support for Syrian refugees and the anti-government uprising.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group supporting the Alawite Shiite minority at the helm of Syria’s current regime, seemed to have no direct connection to the violence.
As a result of these events, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have issued warnings against travel to Lebanon. A decline in visitors could deal a powerful blow to the summer vacation season, a major source of income for Lebanon’s tourism industry, which accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP.
The United Nations reports other flare-ups of violence related to support of or opposition to the Syrian government, as well as indicators that external terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, are active in Lebanon, and make forays into Syria to further destabilize the situation there.