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October 22nd, 2012

Syrian Fighting Spills Over Into Bordering States


Violence from the Syrian Civil War has started to spill over into neighboring Middle Eastern countries Lebanon and Jordan. On Sunday, October 19, a car bomb exploded in broad daylight in central Beirut, killing top Lebanese intelligence officer Wissam al-Hassan, his bodyguard and one bystander.

A young protester opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad throws stones towards Lebanese security forces during a demonstration in Beirut following the funeral of top intelligence official General Wissam al-Hassan.

Al-Hassan was a top investigator who found that Syria and the government’s militant ally Hezbollah were responsible for the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The incident led Syria to withdraw its troops, which had occupied Lebanon since 1976. At this point it is unclear who is responsible for the latest attack, though many in Lebanon and abroad have already pointed fingers at Syria.

After the funeral, Lebanese protesters took to the streets of Beirut to express their anger against the government and call for the resignation of the prime minister. The protests have escalated into gun battles between Sunnis and Shias in downtown Beirut, and the Lebanese army has been called in to break up the fighting.

Lebanon’s history makes it vulnerable

Last month, dozens of people were killed in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli during gun fights between anti-Syrian government and pro-Syrian government groups. The Lebanese government is especially concerned that the conflict in Syria could spark violence within Lebanon, a highly diverse country that has long dealt with ethnic tensions, and survived its own bloody 15-year-long civil war between Christians and Muslims that almost destroyed the city of Beirut.

Meanwhile, the government of Jordan announced that armed militants attempting to cross the border from Jordan to Syria killed a Jordanian soldier in a skirmish. Jordanian officials also announced that security forces stopped an al-Qaida-linked plot to blow up shopping malls and various Western targets within Jordan using weapons smuggled from Syria.

Who is fighting in Syria?

The fighting in Syria is primarily between the military loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and anti-regime protest fighters. However, in an attempt to justify his brutal crackdown, Assad has blamed foreign actors and terrorists for the initial uprising and continued violence.

While some members of the government continue to support the regime, others, including many higher-ups, defected in protest of the violence.

The opposition is a patchwork of groups fighting to overthrow Assad and establish a democracy in his place. The opposition includes the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Liberation Army and fighters from across the region. Terrorist groups such as al-Qaida (also spelled al-Qaeda) have joined the fight, worrying outside observers.

Syria youths react to an airstrike by Syrian government forces in Maaret al-Numaan, a city that the rebels had captured a week earlier.


Fears of a regional war

The United Nations estimates that close to 30,000 Syrians have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s government began more than a year ago.

The Syrian situation is one of several large-scale uprisings across the Arab world, often referred to as the “Arab Spring.” The Arab Spring movement has unseated leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Other countries in the region experiencing their own uprisings include Bahrain, Yemen and Morocco.

In Syria, troops have bombarded rebel strongholds with artillery, fired across the Turkish border at a Syrian refugee camp, and shot down a Turkish jet that crossed into Syrian air space. These actions have drawn criticism from the international community and sparked fears that the conflict will turn into more than a civil war.

— Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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