While writing the previous post (during an electricity cut, so no internet), it seems my last question was already being answered – a Mustaqbal funeral procession in Tariq al-Jdeide (a mixed sunni-shia neighbourhood along the airport road where some of the heaviest battles of the previous days were fought) was attacked by gunmen, killing six and injuring twelve. Amal has denied involvement. This is a very worrying development – up to now the fighting has been between militia members, no civilians seem to have been deliberately targeted (though some inevitably were caught in crossfire) until now. This is a deliberate Iraqi style massacre serving no political or strategical purpose except causing revenge actions and general chaos. Meanwhile, heavy fighting has flared up in the north of Lebanon, in Tripoli and Akkar, and a Saudi delegation trying to cross the border from Syria via Masnaa has come under fire too. None of this bodes well… On the other hand, the army has just arrested one Hussein Nimr al-Sabbah in Karantina for alleged involvement in the shooting attack on the Mustaqbal funeral procession and referred him to prosecution, hopefully preventing revenge attacks with this spectacularly fast action (and presuming they got the right man and he’s not involved in one of the militias).
Meanwhile, journalists and others have found the time to hold a demonstration protesting the brutal closing down by Hizbullah of Hariri’s Future tv and newspapers (and hacking of their websites) in the name of freedom of the press – which is kind of dubious as far as I’m concerned because Mustaqbal media have as much to do with press freedom as Hizbullah’s al-Manar TV or the Soviet-era Pravda newspaper – i.e. they are party propaganda tools and not independent media. I mean, burning their buildings down is of course pretty drastic, but I haven’t heard any Lebanese or other journalists condemning or protesting the US declaring al-Manar TV a terrorist organization and forbidding its distribution in the US, for example, which has just as drastic an effect. More info on the demonstration and campaign (and on all the stuff happening in Beirut right now) at menassat.
Latest eyewitness reports indicate that, as of this morning, all militiamen (HA/Amal/SSNP) have evacuated Hamra, as well as the LAF (army), and only the ISF (police force) are left there. That was mighty quick. So they just wanted to make a point then?
Meanwhile, Siniora has given a speech on tv and urged the army to take control and clear the streets. The government has of course been asking the army to fight the opposition all through, but Suleiman has consistently refused to do this (in fact he has refused to do this since January 2007), for one simple reason: the army is composed of all the sects and if it would take sides in this highly sectarian conflict, a large number if not all soldiers and officers would simply desert, most likely taking their respective weaponry with them, and we would be back in 1975. Another reason is of course that Suleiman wouldn’t stand a chance of becoming president anymore if he would fight either the opposition or the pro-government forces. That is also why he has refused to declare a state of emergency or martial law, since this would force the army to intervene on one side against the other. Instead, all the army has done is to try and separate the warring sides and practice the highest possible degree of damage control. If the army would succumb to the demands of the government and its US backers, that would automatically ignite a civil war which would make the events of the last few days look like child’s play…