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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Car Bomb Explodes in Hezbollah Beirut Stronghold.


Syria Lebanon

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IN BRIEF:  Lebanon has been a sectarian tinderbox for over half a century. Syria, formerly a stable, secular state has descended into a sectarian war that could spread like wildfire through neighbouring Lebanon- long a scene of Sunni-Shia tensions.


THE SITUATION: -Lebanon is the western end of the geographical "Shia crescent," an arc of Shia populations running from Iran in the east, through Eastern Saudi Arabia and Syria through to Lebanon. 
-the increasing weight of Lebanon's Shia population has begun to challenge traditional Sunni political control in that country.
-Hezbollah, heavily armed and well organized in south Lebanon and south Beirut, has become a state within a state.
-as the civil war in Syria has taken on sectarian dimensions along the Sunni-Shia divide, Hezbollah has begun top offer its services to the Assad Government in its fight against mostly Sunni rebels.

THE FACTS: Hezbollah: -In 1982, with the expulsion of the Secular, Sunni PLO from Lebanon by Israel, the Shiite militia Hezbollah essentially replaces the PLO in Lebanon as the main armed force dedicated to the destruction of Iarael. 
 -in the mid to late 80s, Hezbollah expands its campaign against Israel to an assault on all western interests in Lebanon, through bombings and kidnappings.

-the Shia Alawite regime, a minority in Syria, has felt a religious but mostly tactical affinity for the power Shia militia in Lebanon.
-Hezbollah can be expected ally itself against Sunnis, Christians or Israel as the occasion requires.

Hezbollah and Syria.
-1980s, 1990s- President Hafez Assad of Syria, himself a Shia Alawite is nevertheless strongly secular, has no use for Hezollah's goal of a Shia theocracy, but sees it as possiblle ally against Israel.
-Hezbollah gets strong military support from Iran. 
-when Syria occupies Lebanon in the wake of the Israeli invasion, Hezbollah allies itself with Syria against Christian Lebanese leader, Michel Aaoun whose own militia is attempting Syria's explusion.
-2000- Bashar al Assad becomes president of Syria.

Hezbollah and Syria's expanding civil war.

2012- Fighting from Syria's civil war waged against the Assad regime spills over into Lebanese border regions causing Sunni-Shia conflicts in Lebanon's frontier regions.  Hezboollah moves to defends Shia villages on  both sides of the border.

Syria violence begins to spill over into Lebanon.

2012- Lebanon: May 12, In Lebanon an army officer was killed by sniper fire after clashes broke out between the army and a group of young Islamists, who were demonstrating in Tripoli for the release of a terrorism suspect. A resident of the largely Sunni district of Kobbe was killed in clashes between factions supporting and opposed to the revolt in neighboring Syria. Five people were left injured.

2012- May 14, Clashes in Lebanon continued for a third day, with gunmen firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades as sectarian tensions spilled across the border from Syria.

2012- May 20, In north Lebanon army troops shot dead a Sunni cleric when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint, the scene of deadly clashes linked to the uprising in Syria. Another religious figure in the car of cleric Ahmad Abdel Wahed, known for his support of the anti-regime uprising in neighboring Syria, was also killed.

Fighting between Sunni Salafist and Shia groups in Lebanon coincide with Syrian attack on Lebanese Islamists.

2012- Lebanon- November 11, three people were killed and four others wounded after supporters of Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir clashed with supporters of Hezbollah in the southern city of Sidon. Assir stated "We have a blood score to settle with Hizbullah that can only be settled with blood", and that he considered forming an armed resistance group.
Hezbollah attack on Al Qusayr, Syria.
2013 May - Government and allied Hezbollah forces surround the rebel-held town of Qusair between Homs and the Lebanese border. Rebel commanders complain that arms supplies have tapered off over international concerns about Islamists in the opposition camp, allowing the government to regain territory along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders and around Damascus.


644-1000 AD- -Lebanon is Islamized by migration of Kurds, Turkomans, Persians and Arabs, many of whom had been accused of the Shia heresy in their land of origin.

 CHRONOLOGY, TIMELINE for the history of Hezbollah.

A Lebanese Shia Militia is formed after Shia Fighters fall out with the PLO

1982- -the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon results in the creation of Hezbollah as the new resistance to Israeli occupation, dedicated also to the annihilation of Israel and the establishment of a Shia theocracy. After falling out with the PLO, Imad Mughinyah joins the newly formed Hezbollah and becomes its security chief. His is also prominent in Islamic Jihad.
1982 -Israeli troops occupy southern Lebanon to stop sorties against Israel by the PLO and the Shia militia, Hezbollah.
-Hezbollah, in alliance with Islamic Jihad and Islamic Amal opposes the regime of President Amin Gemayel. Hezbollah worked alongside 2,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards posted in Baalbek to fight the Israeli occupation.
1983- Oct. 23- -Multinational Peace Troops suffer simultaneous bomb attacks, killing 230 US marines in a marine barracks and 58 French partroopers. Hezbollah militant Imad Mughaniyah is suspected in the blast that killed the 230 marines.
1984- Hezbollah takes on the Lebanese army and also the Israelis in South Lebanon.

Hezbollah turns against the US and the West.

1987- operations extend to the kidnapping of western hostages including the envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Terry Waite. American hostages are taken in hopes of discouraging US support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War and also as a way of securing US arms for Iran- as in the Iran-Contra affair.

-aid from Iran increases, including cannon, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles as well as funds for welfare through Hezbollah's 'Martyr's Foundation.'

Syria's Ambivalence Toward Hezbollah

-Syrian President Hafez Assad, though having little use for Hezbollah's religious agenda, supports it against the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.

1988- Jan.-Feb,- Hezbollah loses 40 killed in fighting with the South Lebanese Army.

-Syria's Assad encourages the Shia militia Amal to fight Hezbollah in Beirut's southern suburbs to prevent Hezbollah's rise to power among the Shia.

1989- July- Israel kidnaps Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, the party leader in South Lebanon.

Hezbollah Supports Syria Against Aoun.

August- Hezbollah joins the offensive against the Maronite General, Michael Aoun and his attempt to drive Syria out of Lebanon.

-Hezbollah rejects the Taif Accords, for giving insufficient recognition to the power and increasing population of the Shia in Lebanon and refusing to consider the idea of Islamic government.

Hezbollah Rejects the Taif Accords.

1990- Oct- Syria backs Hezbollah in the Syrian offensive that drives General Michel Aoun from Lebanon.

December -Hezbollah boycotts the new National Unity Government for its lack of any plan to expel Israel from South Lebanon.

-after the disarmament of Beirut militias, Hezbollah stores its arms and sets up in the Bekaa valley and in South Lebanon where it harasses Israeli and South Lebanon Army (SLA) troops. Israel bombards Hezbollah positions.

Hezbollah Resists Peacetime Disarmament.

1991- May- Hezbollah announces that it will never surrender its arms to the Lebanese government as long as there are Israelis on Lebanese soil. The government compromises by allowing a limited Hezbollah militia.

-trades involving Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners and western hostages result in an end to Hezbollah's hostage operations.

1992- Hezbollah wins 8 of 27 seats reserved for Shia in Lebanese parliamentary elections.

1993-96- Israeli Offensives Against Hezbollah in South Lebanon.

1993- Hezbollah kills two Israeli soldiers, provoking Israel's 2-week shelling of Hezbollah positions in "Operation Accountability" leaving 250,000 homeless and 139 head.

1994-95- Hezbollah mounts sporadic attacks against Israeli positions in South Lebanon.

1996- April- in response to Hezbollah rocket attacks against northern Israel, Israel launches 'Operation Grapes of Wrath,' killing up to 200 civilians as well as refugees protected by the UN refugee camp at Qana. 400,000 were displaced.

-in alliance with Amal, Hezbollah wins 22 of 23 parliamentary seats in the Beqaa Valley governorate.

1997-98- Hezbollah intensifies attacks on SLA and Israeli targets in South Lebanon.

Hezbollah Forces Israeli Withdrawal from South Lebanon.

2000- Israel withdraws unconditionally from South Lebanon in accord with UB Security Council Resolution 425, passed in March, 1978. But since Israel holds on to the Shaaba Farms of the border regions, Hezbollah sustains periodic attacks there.

2000- the Hezbollah Amal alliance wins 23 seats in the south and does well in Nabatiya and in the Bekaa Valley.

Hezbollah sides with Sistani's call for Neutrality in Invasion of Iraq.2003- Hezbollah and Middle Eastern Shia support Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani's neutrality in the US invasion of Iraq.
2004- Hezbollah supports Sistani's call for direct, full democracy in Iraq. Hezbollah knows that similar direct democracy in Lebanon would give them the balance of power.

Hezbollah launches counter-demonstrations to mass protests of murder of Hariri.
2005- Feb- after huge demonstrations of Christians and Sunnis to protest the murder of Rafiq al Hariri, Hezbollah holds an even larger pro-Syrian demonstration.

2005- June- Hezbollah gets parliamentary power from large Shia vote in South Lebanon. To protect its new power, Hezbollah distances itself from support for the Shia of Iraq in order to placate the Sunnis in Lebanon in the name of Lebanese nationalism.

Hezbollah kidnapping ignites Summer 2006 Israeli Invasion of Lebanon.

2006- July- Hesbollah fighters kidnap two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanon-Israel border in hopes of pulling of a prisoner exchange. Israel, however, responds with a full-fledged invasion, with the intention of destroying Hezbollah. Israeli troops destroy communications, bridges and infrastructure throughput the country in hopes of stifling Hezbollah's arms supply. But the war ends with a UN-brokered peace, Hezbollah still intact with an internationally recognized moral victory, and Israel's Prime Minister Olmert viewed as an incompetent for doing far more damage to Lebanon than to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah Agitates For More political power in Lebanon.
-Hezbollah holds mass demonstrations for the resignation of the Sinioria government and new elections that will more accurately show, in Hezbollah's view, the strength of the Shia vote.
-Hezbollah security chief Imad Mughaniyah is reported meeting Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Syria.
Alliance of Hezbollah and Aoun.

Dec. 1- Michel Aoun joins Hezbollah in its protest against the Siniora government's refusal to recognize Hezbollah's cabinet strength with a right of veto.

2007- Sept.-parliament delays election of a new president until October 23- as the Hezbollah-pro-Syrian bloc boycotts all proceedings. October 23 deadline passes without a decision.

2008- February 12- Hezbollah militant Imad Mughaniyeh killed by Israeli car bomb in Damascus.

Hezbollah Takes on Sunnis in fight after attempt to end its Communications.

May- government attempts close to down Hezbollah'a telecommunications system, throws south Beirut into factional fighting between pro-Syria, anti-government forces represented by Hezbollah and anti-Syrian, pro government Sunnis.

2009- May- -May- US Vice President Joe Biden visits Lebanon; Hezboollah accuses him of attempting to intefere in upcoming June elections.

Hariri's Pro-Western Alliance Party Defeats Hezbollah in Eelections.

2009- June- Saad Hariri's pro-western March 14 Alliance Party wins election, defeating Hezbollah's March 8 Alliance Party.

US sends mixed messages to Syria and warnings about Hezbollah and Iran.

2010 April - US warns of serious repercussions for Syria if reports that it supplied Hezbollah with Scud missiles were true. PM Sa'ad Hariri earlier dismisses the accusations against Syria.

2010 May - US renews sanctions against Syria, saying that Damascus supports terrorist groups, seeks weapons of mass destruction and has provided Lebanon's Hezbollah with Scud missiles in violation of UN resolutions.

Nasrallah Condemns UN Hariri Tribunal, gets backing from Iran.

2010- October - Amid signs of heightened sectarian tension, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pays controversial visit to Lebanon that culminates in rally held at Hezbollah stronghold near Israeli border. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls on Lebanese to boycott UN tribunal into 2005 killing of former PM Rafik Hariri, saying the tribunal is in league with Israel.

 Oct 28, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, called on all Lebanese to boycott the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of a former prime minister, saying all information gathered by the team was being sent to Israel. He spoke a day after a crowd of women attacked two UN investigators and a Lebanese interpreter as they gathered evidence at a private gynecology clinic in Beirut. He confirmed that the wives and relatives of Hezbollah commanders and officials were among the clinic's patients.

Nov 23, Lebanese PM Saad Hariri dismissed a media report that implicated Hezbollah and possibly Lebanon's head of police intelligence, Colonel Wissam Hassan, in the 2005 murder of his father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. 

 2010- Dec 7, The New York Times reported that US officials believe the militant group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, has acquired an arsenal of some 50,000 rockets and missiles, raising fears of an enlarged conflict with Israel. Iran and Syria were named as the sources.

2011- Jan 12- Lebanese government falls as Hezbollah ministers walk out over Hariri Tribunal.

Syria violence begins to spill over into Lebanon.

2012- Lebanon: May 12, In Lebanon an army officer was killed by sniper fire after clashes broke out between the army and a group of young Islamists, who were demonstrating in Tripoli for the release of a terrorism suspect. A resident of the largely Sunni district of Kobbe was killed in clashes between factions supporting and opposed to the revolt in neighboring Syria. Five people were left injured.

2012- May 14, Clashes in Lebanon continued for a third day, with gunmen firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades as sectarian tensions spilled across the border from Syria.

2012- May 20, In north Lebanon army troops shot dead a Sunni cleric when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint, the scene of deadly clashes linked to the uprising in Syria. Another religious figure in the car of cleric Ahmad Abdel Wahed, known for his support of the anti-regime uprising in neighboring Syria, was also killed.

Fighting between Sunni Salafist and Shia groups in Lebanon coincide with Syrian attack on Lebanese Islamists.

Lebanon- November 11, three people were killed and four others wounded after supporters of Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir clashed with supporters of Hezbollah in the southern city of Sidon. Assir stated "We have a blood score to settle with Hizbullah that can only be settled with blood", and that he considered forming an armed resistance group.
Hezbollah launches attack on Al Qusayr.
2013 May - Government and allied Hezbollah forces surround the rebel-held town of Qusair between Homs and the Lebanese border. Rebel commanders complain that arms supplies have tapered off over international concerns about Islamists in the opposition camp, allowing the government to regain territory along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders and around Damascus.

SUMMARY OF SYRIAN HISTORY: Perhaps more than any other region in the Middle East, Syria-Lebanon, like Janus, the god of past and future, has had its gaze fixed in two directions, west and east and forward and backward in time. The region's place on the Mediterranean has opened it to western conquest, trade and cultural influence for over two thousand years: from Macedon, through Rome, Byzantine Christianity and finally Europe. At the same time its hinterlands have constituted a deep link to Asia and the ancient world of the Akkadian and Assyrian Empires, of Persia and the Parthians and the tremendous force of Islam in the earliest Caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad and an Ottoman Empire stretching as far east as Persia.
                 This is the heritage of the Syria of Arab nationalism and Islamic radicalism. Both are deeply conservative, both represent Syria's inner and backward gaze, both are nevertheless opposed and threaten to tear the country to pieces in the present conflict. Yet it is also this frontier between east and west that brought Muslim and Christian minorities closer than they have been anywhere else in the Middle East. Syria-Lebanon was forced into contact with the west through the Crusades and Europe's drive to wrest away the Holy Lands in the name of Christianity. In 17th century, France won protection of Syria-Lebanon's Christian minorities from an overburdened Ottoman empire. Napoleon's expedition to Egypt and Syria  revived and sustained European interests and rivalries in the region, over trade and the protection of  holy places and religious minorities who often resorted to sectarian war, especially in coastal, Europeanized Lebanon.
                  In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed leaving the victors, France and Britain, to carve up the Middle East. France got Syria-Lebanon. Each area proved ungovernable and France cut coastal Lebanon away from Syria and gave them both independence.Underneath, ancient sectarian rivalries among Christian and Muslim religious groups continued to simmer. The creation of Israel in 1948 was conceived as yet another western inroad. Lebanon leaned toward the west, Syria toward the east and the Soviet Union and confrontation with Israel. Even Lebanon multi-sectarian, was torn between east and west and it exploded in a Civil war which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The powerful and dissenting presence of Shia Islam in western-oriented Lebanon and the arrival of militant Islam after the 9/11 attacks promised to keep sectarian tensions live in Lebanon and Syria alike. When ordinary Syrians followed the Arab Spring of 2010-2011 into rebellion against  President Assad's decades of misrule, corruption and economic mismanagement, the ensuing civil war began, sadly, to take on a sectarian cast, reflecting the polyglot community that had thrived in the region ever since the seventh century confrontation between  Christian Byzantium and the Muslim conquest.

SYRIA-LEBANON: 1989-2010. 
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1945-1989
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1850-1945
SYRIA-LEBANON: 1500-1850.


LOCATION OF NOTE: ALEPPO:  Founded as early as 5,000 BC, Aleppo is said to be the oldest continually inhabited place on earth. In the second millennium BC, it was ruled by the Hittities. From the 9th to the 7th century BC, it became wealthy as a terminus on the Syria-Baghdad caravan trade. From 600 to 200 BC it was a Persian and then a Greek Seleucid city. When its main competition, Palmyra, fell in 272 BC, Aleppo increased in power and importance. In 300s AD, Aleppo was a Christian city in the Byzantine Christian Empire  before falling to conquest by Islam in 638 and and its great mosque was built in 715. Around 1100, Aleppo was captured by the Seljuk Turks and its great citadel was completed in 12th century as it was beseived by Crusaders before it was captured by Saladin. It fell to the Mongols in 1260 and and to Tamerlane in 1401. But Aleppo achieved its greatest commercial hrights after 1517 when it was absorbed by the Ottoman Empire. It was briefly taken in the mid-19th century by the upstart Egyptian modernizer, Muhammad Ali.  Aleppo then lost economic power with te expansion of Damascus and the completion of the Suez Canal. It prospered under French rule and again after Syrian independence.


                                     The Uprising  is Neither Regional Nor Sectarian.

2011. Encouraged, perhaps, by the success of revolutions in Libya and Egypt, citizens of Daraa, in southwestern  Syria embarks upon a January "Day of Rage", demanding the release of political prisoners. Further protests are met with gunfire and deaths at the hands of the Security forces. President Assad  makes token promises of reform while hinting that the public anger has been in cited by Israel. Beneath this upsurge of violence lies a simple, sinister fact. Assad's liberalizing of the economy over the previous decades, instead of enriching the nation, has concentrated wealth in the hands of the Aalawite elite, his co-religionists and cronies, but also among the Sunni business business class which has remained loyal to the regime. The so-called economic reforms have enriched the Alawites and business class and caused  serious impoverishment of the highly populated rural areas  as poor people of all religious sects crowded into the slums that ring the cities of the economic western corridor- a belt that runs from Aleppo in the north, though Idlib, Hama and Homs down to Damascus in the south. Instead of recognizing his country for the economic tinderbox that it is, Assad blames Israel and sectarian elements for causing trouble. In the impoverished north, there has already been at least one self-immolation like the one in Tunisia which set off the entire Arab Spring.

 In Lebanon, meanwhile, Shia Hezbollah gains a majority of seats in cabinet, making it next to impossible for the UN Tribunal on the 2005 murder of  Sunni Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to commit Hezbollah suspects for trial.

                     The International Community Puts Pressure on Syria.

In Syria, throughout April and May the protests, which are neither tribal nor regional nor sectarian, but entirely a response to economic hopelessness and political repression, begin to spread acrossthe country. The Assad government, perhaps  mindful of the the other Arab revolutions and the amorphous and intractable state into which it has allowed the country to fall, insists that Sunni radials or"Salafists" are behind the trouble and meets the protests with military force, killing more peaceful demonstrators every day. Provoking further rage, Assad has set off on a path of no return.

 In summer, 2011, As the US and the European union tighten sanctions on Syria, Assad decides to  make a few gestures toward reform, calling it a "national dialogue." Meanwhile a nominal Syrian Opposition begins to emerge, holding its first significant meeting in Istanbul. The goal is to put forward a national opposition leadership and gain international recognition.  Protests spread amid signs that the conflict is overflowing Syria's borders and threatening to draw in the region as Sunni-Alawite clashes explode in Lebanon.

As the summer progresses,   the US and other Western and Arab nations use sanctions to pressure Assad to step down as the UN reports floods of refugees leaving Syria for neighbouring countries.  In the fall, just as the Arab League expels Syria from membership, Russia and China, block a UN resolution condemning government atrocities.

In winter, 2011-2012, Syria allows Arab League observers to monitor the conflict as giant suicide bombs explode near military installations in Damascus. The Opposition denies responsibility and suggests the government is trying to start a sectarian war. Both sides will point to each other as instigators of the sectarian war that everyone fears.
                             Russia and China Block Intervention in Syria in the UN.

Russia and China block another UN resolution on Syria amid increasing government violence as it retakes Homs in March killing scores including children in reprisal. Immense terrorist bombings begin to point to Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, Arab observers, immobilized by the violence, begin to arrange support for the opposition. The government continues it attacks on peaceful demonstrations at "protest hubs" in cities like Idlib, Hama, Homs and Deraa, that string the western corridor.

In March and April 2012, UN envoy Kofi Annan proposes a ceasefire that might allow the beginnings of dialogue. Russia and China support the plan but only after weakening its stipulations. But violence continues as the government steps up its offenses and the opposition responds as the deadline approaches. Annan's ceasefire deadline comes and goes in early April leaving the ceasefire in tatters. The government forges ahead using heavy weaponry and perpetrates another massacre at Hula.

The Red Cross has already declared the Syrian conflict a civil war. Violence spills over into Lebanon in mid-May as anti-Assad Sunnis in Tripoli and Kobbe lash with local supporters of the Syrian regime while a Lebanese critic of the Assad regime was arrested, setting of more clashes and hinting that Hezbollah government authorities might be putting their weight behind their longt-time Syrian ally.

 The war internationalizes with the onset of summer, 2012, as a Turkish jet in Syrian airspace is shot down by Syria and Western diplomats pull their ambassadors from embassies in Damascus. Turkey meanwhile sharpens its rules of engagement, threatening to attack any Syrian incursion on its border. Syria is increasingly beleaguered as high level defections from the Assad regime combine with President Obama's warning of  serious measures of Syria uses its alleged stores of chemical weapons. As UN observers pull out of Syria citing the increasing violence, Lakdar Brahimi becomes the new UN peace envoy.

                      The rebel Syrian Free Army Begins to Make Progress around Aleppo

At summer's end, the free Syrian army and other rebel groups make headway in fighting in Damascus and Aleppo, both cities being key to the regime's survival. Meanwhile border tensions arise again between Syria and Turkey with both countries banning each other from using their airports after Turkey discovers Russian weaponry on a Syrian aircraft stopping over in Istanbul.

 Instability further threatens Lebanon in October with the assassination of security chief General Wissam al-Hassan, who had supplied logistical support for the Syrian rebels, setting off clashes between Sunnis and Lebanese supporters of the Assad regime-most probably the Shia Hezbollah party.

                      Syrian Opposition Groups Unite to get Western Support.

In November,2012,  just as the press reports summary executions of prisoners by the Free Syrians Army, Syrian opposition groups meeting in Qatar declare themselves united and form the Syr­i­an Na­tion­al Co­ali­tion for Op­pos­i­tion and Re­volu­tion­ary Forces, making themselves more eligible for funding and weapons from outside Syria. Ominously, sectarian militia groups like the Al Qaeda backed Al Nusra refuse membership.

Upsurges of Violence continue in Lebanon as alignments in the Syrian civil war begin to be taken up in multi ethnic Lebanon. Sunni militants clash with the huge Shia militia, Hezbollah,and Syria planes kill volunteers attempting to cross the border from Lebanon into Syria. But Lebanese soldiers also clash with
Syrian rebels in the border area.

                        Syria Discovered to have Chemical Weapons.

In December, the US warns Syria about its apparent possession of chemical weapons and hints at direct intervention is Syria uses them. As fighting continues to spread to rebel positions along the Turkish border, Turkey warns Syria to stay clear and gets a commitment from NATO to place patriot missiles along its frontier with Turkey.  Fighting between pro and anti Syria factions on the Lebanese border threaten once again to bring Lebanon into the conflict

As US intelligence detects the actual presence of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, internatiomal pressure is placed on Russia and China to prevent Syria from using them. As rebels continue to fight for Aleppo, Russian envoy Serge Lavrov, UN envoy Lakdar Barahimi and the Syrian Foreign Minister all report that Assad had no intentions of stepping down. Indeed, Assad accuses Islamist sectarian fighters of destroying he company. On this sole point of agreement, perhaps, the US declares Al Qaeda's Syrian Al Nusra Front a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Washington joins an increasing number of countries recognizing the official Syrian Oppositiion.  

On Jan. 6, 2013,  In a theatre, President Assad addresses Syrian faithful, or perhaps a captive audience, rallying supporter to the cause, attributing the war to Islamist extremists and refusing to stop fighting until victory is achieved. Meanwhile, US and Russia officials hold talks on building a transitional givernment but the talks are not substantive.

In mid-January, the international dimensions of the conflict are once again prominent with the Syria Opposition meeting in Istanbul to consider a prime minister for a transitional government while the US and Russia hold their own talks on shape a new government might take place. And all of this in the shadow of massive Russian naval exercises off the coast of Syria which some suggest have the joint purpose of giving moral support to President Assad, evacuating Russian personnel from Syria and projecting Russian power into the region over fears of the collapse of its greatest middle eastern client.

EVENTS IN SYRIA- 1989-2010
With the Taif Accords of 1989, the Lebanese civil war, which had been raging since 1973, ended. Throughout the 1990s, Sunni-Christian domination of the government was confirmed but with reduced participation of Christians. Both Syria and Israel, who had repeatedly occupied Lebanon during the civil war, ceased hostilities. While Syria continued its occupation, Israel finally withdrew. The nationalist Sunni Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, rebuilt much of the war-torn country but after he refused any extension of pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud's constitutional time limit, Syria delivered a veiled threat. On February 14, 2005. Hariri was assassinated, much of the evidence pointing to Syria. International pressure then forced Syria's final and full withdrawal from Lebanon. Periodic violence accompanied efforts by the UN and the international community to set up a tribunal to bring pro-Syrian Lebanese suspects to justice. After the election of a pro-western Sunni-Christian government headed by Prime Minister Siniora (a Sunni), Lebanon began once again to fall into pro-Syria and anti-Syria factions, 'anti- Syria' Siniora sharing power with the 'pro-Syria (albeit Christian) President Lahoud. In 2005-2007, anti-Syria politicians were frequently assassinated. The hand of Syria was widely suspected. After Hezbollah fought Israel's summer, 2006 invasion of Lebanon to a stand-off, the Shia Party's prestige increased vastly. In the fall, Lebanon's leaders ignored Hezbollah's demonstrations for a greater share in government and its demands for the governemnt to resign in favour of elections which would reflect Hezbollah'a increased power. The Shia party also insisted on two-thirds of the seats in cabinet as well as the power of veto. In support of Hezbollah's demands, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian who once led the fight to drive Syria from Lebanon, led his party into a pro-Syrian alliance with Hezbollah. Hezbollah opposed all criticism of Syria and in December, 2006, pulled its strong representation from Siniora's cabinet, protesting his refusal to give them the veto. Recent acts of terrorism and street clashes raised fears that Syria was trying to provoke a civil war in order to reestablish control over Lebanon.

French president Chirac, due to personal and poltiical ties to the late Sunni Prime Minister Hariri, had given partisan support to the anti-Syria March 14th Coalition led by Hariri's son, Saad. Charic's support of Hariri's legacys was pleasing to Washington. But after President Sarkozy succeeded Chirac, Washington was guarded about Sarkozy's non-partisan decision, in the spring of 2007, to hold all-party peace talks at St. Cloud. In Washington's view Sarkozy was playing into the hands of the Lebanese anti-Syria opposition's demands for a "unity government." In a June, 2007 meeting at the Elysee Palace Sarkozy met with Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Although Siniora had accepted French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner's offer to host all-party peace talks on Lebanon, Siniora was fully satisfied that France's new government would not be neutral but would fully back his beleaguered government against the pro Syrian alliance of which the militant Shia party, Hezbollah, is a part.

In August, 2007, Aoun's anti-Syria party made further inroads against the government in by-elections. With pro-and anti-Syrian factions in parliament unable to agree on a way of choosing a president to replace outgoing President Lahoud, presidential elections were postponed until October 23, 2008. Meanwhile Hezbollah boycotted the legislature along with its existing cabinet posts. October 23 came and went as Lebanon descended into a political morass, without a president. In December, the army's celebrated neutrality was threatened when Francois Al Hajj, a candidate for commander-in-chief was killed by a car bomb. A Damascus Arab League summit in March tried but failed to break the stalemate in Lebanon. In spring, 2008, the new army chief and presidential hopeful Michel Suleiman threatened to resign if the party didn't agree on a president by summer. The tensions, which have mounted since the murder of anti-Syrian president Rafiq Hariri in February, 2005, broke when the government attempted to close down Hezbollah's telecommunications network. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nazrallah called it a declaration of war. However, the fighting ended when the government agreed to leave Hezbollah's telecommunications intact. On May 25, 2008,Parliament finally elected former army chief Michel Suleiman as president. Three days later, Fouad Seniora was re-appointed prime minister by Suleiman. On July 11 Seniora formed a unity government and the following day, France's President Sarkozy brokered an agreement by which Syria and Lebanon would restore diplomatic relations.

Prospects for reconciliation received a setback in March 2009, when the International CriminalTribunal, having tried tried the four Lebanese generals suspected in the 2005 Hariri Assassination, acquitted them for lack of evidence. Moreover, in May, US Vice President Biden's visit to Lebanon before elections in June was seen by Hezbollah as political interference. The elections, the following month, produced a victory for Prime-Minister designate Saad Hariri's March 14 Party, an alliance formed around his his father's assassination, implicitly opposing  the defeated pro-Syrian Hezbollah party and its backer, Syria.

Al Qaeda, which has an interest in continuing instability in Lebanon had infiltrated fighters in the south before ten were arrested by the Lebanese army. Instability continued as Saad Hariri failed to achieve agreement in the allocation of cabinet posts as he attempted to form a government.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria cut off diplomatic relations after Iraq linked Syria with a string of bombings in Baghdad. By September, Prirme Minister Saad Hariri had still not been able to form a government through ethnic allocation of cabinet posts. Border unrest flared the following month with south Lebanese militants exchanging rocket and artillery barrages with Israel on October 27. In early November the border tension gained a maritime aspect when Israeli commandos intercepted a ship carrying 600 tons of arms from Egypt to Hezbollah (according to Israel) in South Lebanon.

Finally, on November 7, Prime Minister Saad Hariri announces the formation of a unity government five months after the victory of his March 14 Party. A period of conciliation  follows, the new cabinet ruling that Hezbollah could remain armed with its considerable arsenal and Hariri traveling to Damascus for what he described as productive talks with Syria. Relations seem warmer yet as Washington restores its ambassador to Damascus in February, 2010 after a five year chill when relations were broken because of presumed Syrian implication in the assassination of Saad Hariri's father, President Hariri.

2010- Tensions resume, however, as an Israeli cabinet minister remarks in February 2010 that another war with Lebanon remains likely before Prime Minister Netenyahu distances himself from the comments. The rough patch continues as the US reprimands Syria upon hearing that Damascus supplied weapons to Hezbollah with Prime Minister Hariri moving, perhaps surpsingly, to Syria's defence. Implying that its suspicions are confirmed, the US hits Syria with sanctions in April accusing it of seeking weapons of mass destruction and arming terror groups in violation of UN resolutions.

In July Lebanon's revered Shia cleric Hussein Fadlallah dies. Syria and Iran, meanwhile deny US accsusations that Iran has supplied Syria with radar that can interfere with Israeli capabiliy of overflight in the event of a mission to destroy Iranian reactors. In August a skirmish between south Lebanese militants and Israelis on Lebanon's southern border leaves a few dead on each side and in September, Syria and Iraq restore diplomatic relations broken a year before.

2010: Syria and Iraq retires diplomatic relations in September after a one year standoff., restoring what some have called "the Shiite Crescent" of Shia nations or Shia governments from Iran to Syria. But elsewhere Syria's prestige is threatened as it fails to arrest witnesses in the Hariri case for perjury in October. The UN tribunal decides Syria has no legal authority over witnesses who are Lebanese and on Lebanese soil.

An October visit to Lebanon by Iranian Preident Ahmedinijad reinforces regional Shia solidarity as Shia Hezbollah leader Nasralla stages a mass rally against the UN Tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination and claims that the tribunal is backed by Israel. Meanwhile reports of  Hezbollah's immense arsenal of rockets and other weapon raised fer of all-out war between Syria, Israel and Iran.

The year closed as President Obama ended a diplomatic standoff by appointing a US ambassador to Syria.

EVENTS IN SYRIA LEBANON, 1945-1989  Since 1945, France has maintained interests in Lebanon and and tried with the UN, the US and Britain  With the simultaneous creation of the state of Israel, Lebanon took in thousands of Palestinian refugees. The presence of radicalized Palestinians, Egyptian President Nasser's pan Arabism and the prospect of a union of Egypt and Syria, galvanized Lebanese Arabs, while upper class Sunnis and Christians looked toward Europe for support. Throughout, the government tried to steer a middle course. The further radicalization of the Palestinian refugees and the entry of PLO units into Lebanon as a result of Israel's 1967 war only raised tensions. Soon the PLO was using Lebanon as a base from which to launch attacks into Israel. By the early 1970s, the battle lines were drawn: clannish Maronite Christians and the Sunni upper class who together controlled the government, were opposed by anti-government Shia and Druze Muslim militants supported by units of the PLO. By 1975, full scale civil war had broken out with Shia muslims fighting Christian minority rule. In 1979-1982, Israel invaded twice to prop up the Christian government and to drive out the PLO. In the second invasion, in 1982, Israel made way for its allies, the Christian Falangists, to massacre Palestinians in the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut. Syria intervened throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, ostensibly to restore order but with ulterior motives of drawing Lebanon back under Syrian control and what Damascus saw as the restoration of a historical Greater Syria. The war began to end in 1989, with the Taif Accords which reduced the share of the dominant Christians in the government. LATER to act as a peace broker during Lebanon's civil war. Like other western powers, France kept its eye on the welfare of Christians in the region during the turublent years of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1983, a French military force was withdrawn from Lebanon after its barracks were bombed by Hezbollah. With the election of French president Sarkozy, Washington became nervous that France's traditional support of the pro western government and Prime Minister  Harir'si March 14 Coalition might weaken and that Sarkozy's attempt at peacemaking might not be as non-partisan as it appears

EVENTS IN LEBANON SYRIA, 1850-1945  By the mid-19th century a Druze-Maronite civil war had ingited, not to end until 1860. The war concluded with an international agreement making Lebanon an autonomous region and providing it with a multi-ethnic adminstrative council or Majlis. In 1861,France helped pressure the Ottoman sultan to create a Sanjak or Christian-governed autonomous region in Lebanon and form a Majlis or multi-ethnic administrative council which included Maronites, Sunnis, Druzes and Shia. By the Berlin Treaty in 1878, however, French interests in Lebanon were confirmed and protection of the Maronites became the means by which France furthered its influence. Until World War I, ethnic strife continued and many Lebanese Christians moved to Europe; but by retaining ties in Lebanon, they only strengthened the European presence there. Otherwise, an uneasy peace was maintained until Wolrd War I. In 1919, in the post World War I settlement, Washington's King-Crane Commission decided that close Maronite ties with France were inevitable while the Muslim majority wanted Lebanon to remain part of Syria. As a result, King-Crane recommended maintaining the compromise of an autonomous Lebanese province within a larger Syrian State. But with the treaty of Sevres in 1919, Israel-Jordan fell under British mandate. At the same time, Greater Syria, which included Lebanon fell under French mandate. The European powers promised that territorial divisions which for example, separated Lebanon from Syria, would only be temporary. The French, however, increased the size of Lebanon so that it ended up containing more Muslims.  After Muslims rebelled in 1925-26, demanding more power, France adopted the "Communal System" of ethnic representation copied from its own Republic, determining that the Prime Minister would be a Sunni, the President a Maronite and the speaker a Shia. It also fixed the proportion of Christians to Muslims in the assembly at 6 to 5. This formula, balancing power toward the Christians, would remain more or less in place until the present day and remains a source of dissatisfaction with Shia Muslims who may now be in the majority.
             Western relations with the region were not helped when France brutally suppressed several rebellions in Syria during the 1930s. At the same time, imported French Fascist ideas took root among Maronite Christians like Phalange militia leader Pierre Gemayyel. European promises never to divide up Syria permanently were broken. Syria, meanwhile, tried to form its own secular democratic government against the French mandate but French repression only radicalized Islamist groups, giving then power. . During Wolrd War II, Vichy France provided a Fascist influence, chiefly among Lebanese Maronites. In 1945, France granted Lebanon its independence leaving many Maronites feeling they were really a European enclave facing what would soon become a tide of Pan Arab nationalism. Syria gained its independence the following year.

EVENTS IN SYRIA LEBANON: 1500- 1850- Though the Crusades ha ended in failure, they brought the Levantine coast to the attention of Europe and trade developed first with Venice and Genoa and then with France. As the Levant and Middle East fell under Ottoman rule, Europe retained a concern with protecting the holy places of Palestine along with Christian minorities, chiefly in Lebanon. In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII founded a seminary in Rome to train Lebanese Maronite Christians for the clergy. France gained its foothold in Lebanon through trade and through the education and protection of the Maronite Christian minority. Over the next three centuries, Lebanese Maronites encouraged French Catholic missionaries to develop French, Christian western-style educational institutions in Lebanon. In 1649, the Ottoman Sultan accepted France's Louis XIV as protector of Christians in Lebanon and thenceforward, French education and culture influenced Lebanese political institutions.In the eighteenth century, rivalry in Lebanon grew between Britain and France, both of whom made trade agreements with the Ottoman Sultan- but the extensive reach of Jesuit and other Catholic religious and educational institutions inside Lebanon guaranteed a strong French infleunce. Throughout the 18th century, France pursued its political, commercial and religious interests in Lebanon. The coastal region of Beirut and Tyre became the most Europeanized area of the Middle East. Soon the western powers each had a religious group to protect. France protected the Maronites, Russia the Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Britain the Druzes and the Jews. Sectarian divisions deepened as the respective powers maintained diplomatic relations with each group.By the 19th century, the consequent empowerment of Lebanese Christians began to chafe on the Druze Muslims of the interior. In 1831, the Sultan's viceroy of Egypt, Muhammed Ali, rebelled against Constantinople, invaded Palestine and took Syria. He and his son, Ibrahim proceeded to bring Europeanizing reforms to Syria and Lebanon, facilitating the entry of European missions and increasing support and tolerance for the Christians, angering Lebanon's Muslims. The British soon threw the Egyptians out of Syria but ethnic strife had already begun. As Druze bridled against French-backed Maronite power, they obtained the backing of the British  

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