On 4 March the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, escaped a sophisticated assassination attempt when two shots fired by a sniper (or snipers) just missed him outside his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut. No one has been arrested following the attack, but it is highly likely it was carried out at the behest of Damascus.
Geagea is an important part of the pro-Western March 14 opposition which has challenged the Government’s support for the Assad regime in Syria. His militia represents a significant military capability and we believe he is involved in smuggling arms to the Syrian rebels. Jordan has moved to crack down on arms transfers, and so more weapons destined for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) will now be transported via Lebanon. With Arab and Gulf states increasingly calling for the arming of the Syrian opposition, the importance of Lebanon as a transit route for weapons to the rebels is likely to continue to rise. As such, it is likely that Geagea was targeted for his support – both actual and potential – for the FSA.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, has called upon the authorities to fulfil their humanitarian responsibilities towards the Syrian refugees. Hizballah has so far refused to establish refugee camps, ostensibly in order not to bring the Syrian conflict into Lebanon. However, it is more likely that the group is concerned that camps would encourage further migration and could be infiltrated by rebel fighters. The March 14 faction has criticised this decision, and various Islamic charities have stated that they will attempt to set up camps to accommodate the refugees.
Jumblatt is part of the Hizballah-dominated administration, but has been increasingly critical of Damascus in recent months, breaking ranks with the Government’s official position. This has led to speculation that Jumblatt will withdraw from the ruling coalition. However he has stated that his support for the Syrian uprising does not mean he will alter his domestic alliances, and that his Ministers will remain in the Cabinet. While his interests have increasingly aligned with the March 14 bloc, this suggests that he still has sufficient incentive to stay in the Government. However, Jumblatt has invariably aligned himself with the dominant force in Lebanese politics and he could yet switch sides.
Finally, popular anger over the actions of the Syrian security forces has increased further following the death of a Lebanese cameraman on 9 April when Syrian troops opened fire against members of the al-Jadeed satellite television channel, who were on Lebanon’s side of the border. Prime Minister Mikati has launched an investigation, but this is unlikely to lead to any meaningful action as the Government will not want to criticise the Syrian forces. The Syrian security forces also reportedly fired rocket propelled grenades into Lebanon, and destroyed farm buildings and clashed with Syrian rebels in Lebanon in this period. Public discontent over the actions of the Syrian military is likely to continue to rise, further aggravating sectarian tensions in Lebanon, potentially leading to clashes.