BEIRUT -- With more than 700,000 Syrian refugees jammed into a country of fewer than 4 million that already was hosting an estimated 500,000 Syrian guest workers, tensions are rising in Lebanon, which was deeply divided even before civil war broke out in its neighbor to the east.
Three major security incidents involving car bombs, as well as a slew of smaller or unreported incidents throughout the country, have put the Lebanese back into familiar territory of not only fearing a wave of disruptive refugees the last came in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whove never left fled the creation of Israel but also facing political uncertainty that many here blame on foreigners pressing their regional aspirations.
Theyre everywhere, Michel Abukhayr said of the refugees. Are they ever leaving? Or will they stay forever like the Palestinians did and force their wars and culture on us?
Abukhayr describes himself as a onetime vehement opponent of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. But now he sees the arrival of the refugees as a nightmare thats weakened Lebanons tourist-based economy, and he admits to agreeing with Assads assessment of the presidents enemies as terrorists.
I hate Assad, Abukhayr said, but hes right about a lot of these people: Theyre violent, theyre (extremists) and between them and Hezbollah they will destroy this country. Again.
In Beiruts southern suburbs, a stronghold of mostly Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, the militant groups support for Assad is seen as a hedge against the regional aspirations of Saudi Arabia and Sunni Muslim ideologues aligned with al Qaida.
After two recent car bombings, Hezbollah instituted tough security measures to enter the southern neighborhoods that only the most security-conscious and efficient political and military movement in the Arab world could impose. Checkpoints mark all major entrances, and roving bands of gunmen check identification and license tags against an internal list of suspected bombers. Teams of Hezbollah militiamen range through the area at night with bomb-sniffing dogs, leaving residents feeling under siege and only slightly safer.
Id rather die in a car bomb than wait in this traffic every day for two hours on my way home from work, said a schoolteacher from the area who would identify herself only as Sally for security reasons. As her mother chided her, she backed off the claim, but only slightly.
Hezbollah says these measures are for our own protection, and I understand that terrorists Israeli or Syrian want to target the resistance, she conceded. But they need to go and find these people before they come here. Then we wont need to sit in these lines and wait all night in the heat just to go home.
Shes right, said Abu Reda, a unit commander for Hezbollah in Rweiss, a neighborhood that was hit by a massive blast last month, killing dozens of people and destroying several apartment buildings. We cant stop each bomb. Were also looking for the bombers themselves, just like the Americans had to do in Iraq. You cant stop every bomb, but you can kill or arrest every bomb maker. And were working closely with the government to do that.