NPR logo

Some in Lebanon See Syrian Hand in Standoff

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Some in Lebanon See Syrian Hand in Standoff

Some in Lebanon See Syrian Hand in Standoff

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In Lebanon, the standoff between the army and Islamist militants outside the northern city of Tripoli has entered a second week. Negotiators say the militants of Fatah al-Islam have outlined a peace offer, but the deal falls short of government demands for a full surrender.

Tensions also remain high in Beirut, where two people were killed and another wounded outside the international airport. There, soldiers shot at a car that failed to stop at a checkpoint.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from the Lebanese capital.

DEBORAH AMOS: The television news plays quietly in the background, as Saad Hariri, the top Sunni leader in the Lebanese parliament and the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, keeps in touch with the army over the latest reports from Nahr el-Bared, the scene of the standoff in the north. Many militants of Fatah al-Islam have been killed in the fighting, but others have been arrested and questioned. Hariri says those interrogations confirm the clear link between the militants and neighboring Syria.

Mr. SAAD HARIRI (Head, Future Party, Lebanon): They are totally linked to Syrian intelligence through phone calls they have made, through, also, confessions that they have made.

AMOS: Hariri's Future Party heads the anti-Syrian bloc, which controls the government, and accuses Syria of trying to destabilize Lebanon. Syria denies those charges. But Hariri says the group of militants fighting the army crossed into Lebanon from Syria, and they have used heavy weapons to confront the army.

Mr. HARIRI: Was caught with all these weapons and all these sophisticated explosives that can only come from the government. And they tell you who exactly in the government they have taken it from, you have the connection.

AMOS: The backers and funders of Fatah al-Islam remain in dispute. The group's leader, Shaker al-Abssi, was released early from a Syrian jail and then made his way to Lebanon. But in an interview released over the weekend, Abssi said he was inspired by al-Qaida. His followers include Sunni Muslim Arabs with experience fighting in Iraq.

Political science professor Karim Makdisi says blaming Syria is the traditional position of the government and he's not surprised about reported confessions from the militants.

Professor KARIM MAKDISI (Political Science, The American University of Beirut): No. It doesn't surprise me that they would say that they have transcripts. It would surprise me if they actually have transcripts. Then finally we would have something to be able to say okay, look, these guys did it. So if they have the transcript I would definitely suggest that they release it.

AMOS: Fatah al-Islam declared itself more than six months ago and it's origins have been a subject of intense speculation here ever since. But for Makdisi, there's a bigger question. Evidence that foreign fighters were part of the group has been known for months, and he asks, where is this conflict heading? Is Lebanon going the way of Iraq?

Prof. MAKDISI: And people are very, very frightened. And the question is that we need to know who brought them in so we could hold them accountable.

AMOS: The late night bombs over the past week in Beirut's wealthy shopping district have shaken the capital. Most Lebanese consider their travels carefully now, trying to figure out if there's a pattern to predict the next attacks says Luna Haj Ali(ph) while she spends an afternoon out eating lunch at a mall.

Ms. LUNA HAJ ALI (Resident, Beirut, Lebanon): Considering that the first bomb happened down the street from where I live and the second bomb happened down the street from where I work, yes, I consider all the alternatives.

AMOS: Our enemies are invisible, says Abir Ander(ph). Her shop is close to one of the bomb sites. She sits alone in her store, occasionally checking a giant television screen across the mall for the latest news. But it's not just the bombings that cause her concern.

Ms. ABIR ANDER: The Fatah al-Islam and the bombs also. Yeah, both. We are so, so feeling bad - what's going on.

AMOS: As darkness falls in Beirut, the streets clear and the army, in checkpoints around the city, take over the capital for the night.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.