Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RLPB 160. Syria conflict spills into Lebanon

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 160 | Wed 23 May 2012

By Elizabeth Kendal

The conflict in Syria is political, sectarian and increasingly jihadist; local, regional and increasingly international. The US - Saudi - Gulf Arab axis is determined to deal Iran a heavy blow and counter its ascendancy by removing Syria from the strategic 'Shi'ite Crescent' through which Iran is connected to Hezballah on Israel's northern border. Further to this, al-Qaeda elements are infiltrating Syria, keen to establish bases for jihadists' operations that will replace those bases lost in Iraq. Despite Lebanon's official policy of disassociation, geography made it almost inevitable that the conflict would eventually spill over the border.

On 7 May Syria's envoy to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, sent a letter to the UN Security Council listing a dozen incidents since mid-March of the smuggling or attempted smuggling of weapons from Lebanon to Syria. The letter also accused al-Qaeda, Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon's Sunni Future Movement of supporting opposition and terrorist fighters. A 21 May report from Stratfor Global Intelligence essentially supports these claims, noting that a struggle is under way in northern Lebanon, a Sunni stronghold. The US - Saudi - Gulf Arab axis is funnelling money and weaponry through Lebanon to the Syrian rebellion -- primarily through Tripoli via Akkar to Homs -- while Syrian forces, together with their allies in the Lebanese military and security agencies, are determined to disrupt those supply-lines. 

On 12 May plain-clothed officers from the General Security Directorate arrested a popular Sunni Islamist and anti-Assad activist, Shadi Mawlawi (27), in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli. He was charged with supporting regional al-Qaeda forces. Riots ensued, attracting an influx of Salafis [Sunni hardliners]. According to Lebanon's Daily Star, 'Salafists hurried to open the Bab Tabbaneh-Jabal Mohsen [Sunni vs Alawite] front.'  Armed groups from the two neighbourhoods exchanged rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and sniper fire until a tenuous truce was brokered. Stratfor reports that five Salaftist groups have now moved into Tripoli and are calling for Sunnis in the Lebanese army to defect. Then on 20 May Sunni cleric Ahmed Abdul-Wahid and his companion Sheikh Mohammad Hussein al-Mereb were killed at an army checkpoint in Akkar district while en route to a rally organised by the Sunni Future Movement. Lebanese soldiers fired on them, reportedly for failing to stop. Local Sunni clerics have denounced the 'assassination' and called for the creation of a 'Free Lebanese Army'. Gun battles erupted at the funeral on Monday 21 May, spreading even into Beirut. Subsequently, reports that 11 Lebanese Shi'ites on pilgrimage in Aleppo, Syria, had been kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) triggered Shi'ite rioting in southern Beirut.

According to Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, the minorities are essentially being ground between two stones: Sunni and Shi'ite. His solution: ally with the winner, which he believes will be the Sunnis in Syria and Shi'ites in Lebanon. The Middle East's Christians, like other minorities, have long sought security through alliances with hegemonic powers. In the end though these powers either prove to be insufficient or fail to be true allies. Not only are they limited and mortal, they are generally self-interested pragmatists -- often liars. They will protect Christians as long as it is convenient -- often exploiting them in the process -- but will betray and sacrifice them as soon as it is not. In reality the Christians of the Middle East have only one protector. His name is Yahweh Sabaoth: the Lord of hosts (literally, the Commander of heaven's angelic armies). In truth, a better ally could not be found! But for Christians to receive his grace, they must seek it in faith. In the face of massive violence and destabilisation, such faith is more radical than natural. So we must pray.


  • draw Christians in Syria and Lebanon to him, so they will look to him, finding comfort and refuge as well as strength for endurance as the security situation deteriorates.  ' . . . in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1b ESV.)
  • for the sake of his Church, guide Christian religious and civic leaders in Syria and Lebanon with wisdom, discernment, moral conviction and courage, that they might not be influenced by misplaced fear and will do what is right regardless of circumstances.
  • redeem these dark days by exposing and bringing down all that is false so that Christ alone will be exalted; that 'the earth might be filled with the knowledge and glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea' (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV).


In the Sunni Muslim stronghold of northern Lebanon a struggle is raging. The US - Saudi - Gulf Arab axis is funnelling money and weaponry through Lebanon to the Syrian rebellion, while Syrian forces, together with their allies in the Lebanese military and security agencies, are determined to disrupt those supply-lines. Incidents have escalated in recent weeks and include killings, arrests, riots and gun battles, mostly in northern Lebanon but also in Beirut which on Monday 21 May experienced its worst violence since May 2008. Security is deteriorating, tensions are high and risk is extreme. The region's minorities are described as being ground between two stones: the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. These besieged Christians need our prayers that they will endure and that God will be their refuge and strength.