Bekaa clashes and Syrian advances

Last night, clashes broke out again – as they regularly do – in Taalbaya and Saadnayel. These are actually two tiny villages (basically a line of houses along the road between Chtaura and Baalbek) in the Bekaa. Apart from lying on a frontier between sunni and shia areas, these villages and the surrounding area seem to be populated by some particularly belligerent clans who probably hate each other’s guts since the days of the Ottoman empire and have now conveniently sided with the opposite parties of the political spectrum – like the Junblatt and Arslan families, the two ‘aristocratic’ clans of landlords who have been vying with each other over the leadership of the druze for the past four centuries or so and now continue to do so under the rather unconvincing monickers of ‘Progressive Socialist Party’ (Junblatt, M14) versus ‘Lebanese Democratic Party’ (Arslan, M8). Anyway, during the Hizbullah actions in May, these very two villages were also the scene of serious clashes and the conflict has obviously not been resolved yet. Last night, three people were killed and four wounded there in fighting that lasted from late evening to early morning and included RPGs and mortars. The Lebanese army felt compelled to move in its elite troops in an effort to end the fighting. Mustaqbal has claimed the fighting started when Amal and Hizbullah fighters attacked the army, and subsequently engaged the local population to cover up the fact – but this report is not taken over by any less biased news outlets, so it’s probably just M14 propaganda… The victims, predictably, are all civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, seems mightily pleased with the Doha accords, as well as with the recent French courting of his government, and has been repeatedly announcing his willingness to open an embassy in Lebanon (reportedly – and not coincidentally one might presume – in the exact location of the former US embassy in Ain al-Mreisseh, which was spectacularly destroyed by the ‘Islamic Jihad Organisation’ during the civil war, in 1983). This is more important than it sounds, as it indicates that Syria is willing to finally renounce its claim on Lebanon as a Syrian province. The two countries have never had official diplomatic relations. Assad does tie the opening of an embassy, as well as his announced visit to Lebanon, to the formation of the national unity government.

The US embassy has reportedly been busy buying up land near Baabda (almost next to the presidential palace in fact) to relocate its premises there, presumably in the not so near future, as no building activities or even groundworks seem to be in evidence. The embassy is now located in Aukar, on the road to Jounieh, inconveniently far from Baabda or even the Grand Serail, but safely tucked away in solid christian territory. The proposed new location will be within easy reach of crude homemade missiles, possibly even simple RPGs, from Dahiyeh…

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