Islamist at Core of Lebanon Bloodletting Freed

May 22, 2012  

A radical Islamist whose arrest sparked deadly clashes in Lebanon between factions feuding over events in neighboring Syria was released on bail Tuesday.

Military judge Nabil Wehbe ordered the release of Shadi al-Mawlawi on a bail of 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($333).

Mawlawi was arrested May 12 on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization. The arrest sparked violent clashes in the northern port city of Tripoli, which resulted in at least eight people being killed. 

His supporters say he was targeted because he was helping Syrian refugees make their way into Lebanon.

The clashes further escalated during the weekend, reaching Beirut following the killing of prominent Sunni anti-Syrian cleric Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Wahid, and his bodyguard.

According to reports, Lebanese soldiers opened fire on Wahid’s convoy when it failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon on Sunday.

Two people were killed and at least 18 others wounded in the clashes that erupted following the slaying on late Sunday, and continued early on Monday.

The unrest has led to deep concern that 14-months of unrest and violence in neighboring Syria is now spilling over into Lebanon.

The violence was the worst in Lebanon since the sectarian violence of 2008 almost plunged the country in civil war.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office issued a statement of concern on Monday saying the UN chief was “extremely troubled about the risk of an all-out civil war (in Syria) and was concerned about the outbreak of related violence in Lebanon.”

The fighting in Lebanon underscored how Syria’s unrest – the most entrenched and bloody of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings – is crossing borders, and beginning to destabilize the region.

Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political ties and rivalries, which can easily turn violent.

Syria held sway in Lebanon politics for many years, and had troops stationed in the country for 29 years until it was forced to withdraw them in 2005 following the assassination of late premier Rafiq Hariri.

The Lebanese opposition has accused Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of seeking to sow chaos in Lebanon in order to relieve the pressure on his embattled regime.

Israeli officials, who believe Assad’s regime is doomed to collapse at some point, have also expressed concern that the violence rocking the country could spill over into Israel.

Last month, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee authorized the call up of as many as 22 battalions to secure Israel’s borders. The IDF has already called up six battalions – some of which were deployed on the Syrian border.

Rights activists say more than 12,000 people – most of them civilians – have been killed in Syria since the popular uprising began in March of last year.

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