Connect to share and comment

Violence, and a summit, make it hard to read the tea leaves in Beirut







Lebanon's interior minister will ban motorbikes this week during certain hours and security officials have warned of more violence following two incidents that highlighted the country's precarious calm.

The motorbike ban comes after a stabbing on Tuesday in the Christian neighborhood of Ain El Roumaneh in Beiurt by youths on scooters from the neighboring, mainly Shia muslim neighborhood of Sheeyeh.

The next day at least 10 people were injured in tit-for-tat attacks in the Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabaneh neighborhoods of Lebanon's northernmost port city, Tripoli.

Violence in the two neighborhoods last year between Sunnis Muslims and Alawites resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries and barricades set up reminiscent of Lebanon's 1975 to 1990 civil war.

The Ain El Roumaneh incident also brought memories of the 15-year civil war, as the stabbing took place at an intersection that was one of the first demarcation lines between East and West Beirut.

The Lebanese government has been stuck inn political limbo since the June 7 parliamentary elections. Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri has been unable to find a formula for a "national unity" cabinet that is agreeable to all the disparate political parties and players.

Security officials told the Beirut based news website Naharnet that they feared a "return of a wave of assassinations in case the Lebanese government was not formed next week."

"Incidents in different Lebanese regions indicate that local and regional powers want to push the process of cabinet formation forward," the website wrote.

There is hope that the visit this week by Saudi Arabian King Abdullah to Damascus will help to speed the cabinet formation. Saudi Arabia and Syria have clashed over Lebanon since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which the Saudis blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Since 2005, the Saudis have supported Saad Hariri's March 14 alliance, and the Syrians the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Political disagreements between the two sides have resulted in street violence over the last four years, although the situation has calmed since the 2008 Doha accords resulted in a government agreeable to all sides of the regional and local political divide.

Some say a similar agreement is upcoming due to the Saudi and Syrian meeting in Damascus. Assad and Abdullah issued a joint statement supporting the formation of a national unity cabinet in Lebanon.

Lebanese Druze leader and politician extraordinaire Walid Jumblatt told Lebanese newspaper As Safir that the Lebanese could "benefit from the golden opportunity" the Damascus meeting presented to form the cabinet.

Jumblatt said the meeting "is enough. It is not up to us as Lebanese not to put obstacles and benefit from the golden opportunity ... and speed up our moves because some local, regional and international powers want to thwart the Syrian-Saudi gathering," he told the paper. On a regional level, many analysts, here summarized by the Associated Press' Zeina Karam believe the Saudi-Syrian summit will help to ease tensions around the Middle East. The Christian Science Monitor says it could help further U.S. President Barack Obama's peace plans.

As for the motorbike ban, which many use here to save on gas and to beat the hour-long traffic jams that develop on the hopelessly insufficient roads, at least the delivery drivers will still be allowed to ride. Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud ordered non-delivery drivers can only ride between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. So, you can still order your Barbar and an Argeelay and watch the political circus unfold on TV.

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/lebanon/091010/violence-and-summit-make-it-hard-read-the-tea-leaves-beirut