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Will Syria's fires singe Lebanon?

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“The Syrian regime is 48 years old and Lebanon is 150 years old and therefore definitely much more immune, more resilient, and able to survive,” says Ousama Safa, a Beirut-based political analyst.

'The Sunnis want a war'

The most consistent and volatile flash point in Lebanon is probably the front line between Tripoli's Sunni-populated Bab Tebbaneh district and the hilltop Alawite quarter of Jabal Mohsen, marked by a string of ragged bullet-pocked and abandoned buildings.

Over the past six years, there have been several bouts of fighting here as Lebanon lurched from one political crisis to another. Last Friday’s clashes between Jabal Mohsen and Bab Tebbaneh, as well as the adjacent Sunni district Qobbe, offer a portent of more trouble to come.

Who started the clashes depends on whom you ask. Alawites insist that the Sunnis shot first, while the Sunnis say that the Alawites opened fire on a demonstration held to support the Syrian opposition movement.

“[The Sunnis] want a war and they are preparing for it,” says Rifaat Eid, the portly and convivial leader of Lebanon’s Alawite community, which is close to Syria's regime. His shelves are filled with photographs of Syria's leaders as well as Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the powerful head of the Syria-backed Hezbollah movement.

Mr. Eid accuses leading Sunni politicians and clerics in Tripoli of fomenting anti-Alawite sentiment and distributing weapons to be used in street battles. He said that the Sunnis have been provoking the Alawites for months by firing occasional rocket-propelled grenades into Jabal Mohsen.

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