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Hezbollah clash with Protestors in Lebanon

What happened: Lebanon experienced a second consecutive night of violence yesterday with supporters of Hezbollah and Amal clashing with supporters of Saad Hariri, who has been caretaker Prime Minister of the country since his resignation in October. Violent incidents included unattributed gunfire around Cola Bridge in Beirut; arson attacks by Hezbollah and Amal supporters on protest tents in Tyre; and an attack by Hezbollah and Amal supporters on protesters who had blocked a major Beirut thoroughfare.

  • The UN Security Council met yesterday to discuss Lebanon and tensions on Israel’s northern border. The body urged all parties in Lebanon to engage in “intensive national dialogue and to maintain the peaceful character of the protests”
  • Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, condemned Israel’s increased aerial activity over Lebanon, citing 787 incidents from July to October this year, a doubling of the previous figure recorded between February and June
  • At discussions surrounding UNSC Resolution 1701, which is supposed to govern Israel-Lebanon relations since the 2006 war, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said, “We demand that the UN continue to hold the same firm line. Hezbollah is an explosive barrel in Lebanon’s belly and the Security Council must commit itself to recognising it as a terrorist organisation, and thus begin to restore stability to the region.”
  • Guterres was critical of the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah saying: “I urge the Lebanese Armed Forces to expeditiously undertake and conclude all necessary investigations regarding the tunnels on the Lebanese side and to take preventive measures against similar occurrences in the future.” He added: “no progress was achieved with respect to the disarmament of armed groups. Hezbollah continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains precision missile and other military capabilities.”

Context: Lebanon has experienced nationwide protests since mid-October, sparked by a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls which turned into wider anti-elite protests. Seven people have been killed in violent incidents linked to the protests

  • Despite Hariri’s resignation on October 29, Lebanon seems no closer to forming a new government
  • US officials said at the end of October that the Trump administration is withholding $100 million in aid, most likely as part of an attempt to pressure the Lebanese army to reign in Hezbollah

Looking ahead: Unlike in Iraq, protests in Lebanon have been almost entirely peaceful with Lebanese security forces protecting anti-government protesters. But Hezbollah and Amal are taking an increasingly aggressive stance towards protesters. The danger is of another Iraq where, propelled by Iran, security forces have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of protesters. An increase in violence by Hezbollah and Amal will lead to mounting pressure from the international community for the Lebanese Armed Forces to deal with the groups. Hezbollah may look to the northern border with Israel to spark an incident to distract from the protests, especially if they continue to take an anti-Hezbollah line.