Watchdog appeals to Lebanon over Syrian spillover
BEIRUT (AP) -- A leading international human rights organization urged Lebanon on Friday to rein in sectarian tensions that have been on the rise amid a spillover of the civil war next-door in Syria.
Human Rights Watch said Lebanese security forces need to better protect minority Alawites in the northern city of Tripoli, only 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the Syrian border. Alawites, a Shiite offshoot sect, have increasingly come under attack by Lebanon's Sunni extremists, who support Syrian rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad. His government is dominated by Alawaites.
With its own explosive sectarian mix, Lebanon has been most vulnerable to Syria's conflict, now in its third year, and has struggled to cope with a massive influx of Syrian refugees. Local Lebanese factions loyal to Syria's warring sides have often clashed along sectarian lines.
In Syria, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah has played a critical role in recent battlefield victories by Assad loyalists, angering Sunnis back home.
Earlier this month, the Lebanese government authorized the army to take charge of security in Tripoli for the next six months, following recent deadly clashes. They raised fears that renewed violence could tip the rest of Lebanon back into sectarian war that ended in 1990.
The fighting in Tripoli is mostly between two impoverished, rival neighborhoods - the Bab Tabbaneh district, which is largely Sunni as are most of the rebels fighting Assad's rule in Syria, and the mostly Alawite Jabal Mohsen.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch said Alawites in Jabal Mohsen have been beaten and stabbed, and the whole community has endured gun battles and mortar attacks over the past year.
The New York-based watchdog said the Beirut government's security plan for Tripoli is inadequate because it has failed to protect Alawite residents and their property. It also urged authorities to police all of Tripoli districts, act to prevent the attacks, investigate violate incidents and detain and prosecute those responsible for bloodshed and destruction.
"There is no quick fix to the rampant violence in Tripoli," said Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director. "But addressing the problem of impunity of gunmen is absolutely key."
Lebanon is divided into a patchwork of sects, including Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. The country's Muslim and Christians militias bitterly fought during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.