Lebanon ‘s ‘Black Sunday’ killings raise sectarian tensions
“It was a trap laid for the Army. It’s an attempt to kill Suleiman’s chances of being president and to sap the morale of the Army,”
By Nicholas Blanford
Feb. 7, 2008 edition (The Christian Science Monitor) – Ali Hayek clutched the photograph of his teenage son, Mahmoud, and heaved a deep sigh. “One minute he was with me and his mother was preparing his supper. Five minutes later he was shot dead in the street.”
The events of that day, now called “Black Sunday,” have spurred intense accusations and recriminations from rival political factions, further souring already strained sectarian tensions in Beirut and stoking worries of more violence to come.
Gen. Michel Suleiman, the commander of the Lebanese Army, has been touted as a compromise candidate for the presidency, which has remained vacant since November. However, some analysts say that the pro-Syrian opposition no longer supports General Suleiman’s candidacy and are behind the drive to discredit him and the Army.
“It was a trap laid for the Army. It’s an attempt to kill Suleiman’s chances of being president and to sap the morale of the Army,” says Oussama Safa, general director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.
As news of the shootings spread through the neighborhood, residents say dozens of men carrying rifles and rocket-propelled grenades headed toward the scene, before being persuaded to turn back by Hizbullah commanders.
However, some angry Shiite demonstrators charged into the adjacent Christian neighborhood of Ain Rummaneh, damaging cars and breaking windows before troops could disperse them.
In Ain Rummaneh, a few minutes’ walk from the clamor, clogged traffic, and Shiite imagery of Haret Hreik, views of “Black Sunday” are starkly different.
“I don’t believe the Army did the shooting; I think it was the Shiites shooting at the soldiers that started it, because they want to provoke a war,” says Lebanese Forces supporter Elie Zarour, who has a small gray mark of the cross on his forehead to commemorate Ash Wednesday.
Tensions between Ain Rummaneh and the adjacent Shiite neighborhood, Shiyyah, have existed since the 1975-90 civil war. The former Green Line dividing east and west Beirut during the war runs down the street separating the two quarters, and some buildings still bear the scars of that earlier conflict. Although the main sectarian fault-line in today’s political crisis is between Shiites and Sunnis, tensions have been building once more between Shiyyah and Ain Rummaneh, residents say.
“We feel that we are heading toward a new civil war,” says Hanna Nassif, a former militiaman with the Lebanese Forces. “But Ain Rummaneh is a castle of steadfastness and we will protect the Christians like we did before.”