Syrian Fires Make Beirut Boil
Syria's ongoing unrest spilled over into Beirut on Monday as UN officials wring their hands over the most entrenched and bloody Arab Spring revolution today.
Sunnis rioted in the Lebanese capital after the killing of an anti-Syrian Lebanese cleric lat Sunday night, leading to clashes with the military that left two dead and 18 wounded.
Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahid was shot dead on Sunday night by Lebanese troops when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon.
The Lebanese military issued a statement expressing "deep regrets" for Sheikh Wahid's death after the incident.
However, his death ignited simmering tensions after violent clashes between Sunnis and Alawites who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Those clashes had left 10 people dead.
Syria's Arab Spring revolt has exacerbated deep political divisions in Lebanon. Beirut's Saudi-allied and Western-leaning opposition backs the movement to oust Assad, while the ruling coalition - dominated by the Hizbullah terror militias - supports Damascus.
The fighting in Beirut was the worst since sectarian clashes in 2008 that pitted Sunnis against Shiites, and nearly plunged the country into civil war.
In Syria, an official of the governing Baath Party was assassinated in Jisr al-Shughur by rebels on Sunday, and a roadside bomb exploded close to UN observers in the suburb of Douma.
The UN observers included the mission commander, General Robert Mood, and the chief of UN peacekeeping operations worldwide, Herve Ladsous. The bombing marked the second time in less than a month Mood has been targeted.
A videotape aired by Al Jazeera on Sunday claiming that six top Syrian officials had been assassinated was denied by the authorities.
The video, issued by a group called the Brigades of the Sabaha [Companions of the Prophet Mohammed] - which has no known ties to the Syrian Free Army - showed an unidentified man in a military-style uniform claiming a lone assassin killed the officials.
Among the alleged victims were Assef Shawkat, the head of military intelligence. Shawkat is Assad's brother-in-law and a powerful figure in Syria. The other five were Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar, Defence Minister Daoud Rajha, national security chief Hisham Bakhtiar, an assistant to Vice-President Farouq al-Sharaa, Hassan Turkmani, and a Ba'ath Party official, Mohammed Said Bakhtian.
However, al-Shaar quickly issued a statement to Syrian state television saying he was "alive and well," adding the "disgusting al-Jazeera" was broadcasting "completely false" reports.
Turkmani also told state telvision reports of his death were "completely baseless."
A government statement carried by the state news agency SANA issued a strong denial by General Rajha.
Al-Shaar also appeared on state television to refute the reports in person after rebels called on the officials to make live appearances to prove they were alive.
The alleged assassinations and prompt denials offer a stark example of the difficulty of ascertaining accurate facts in a country where foreign reports have no been allowed to operate.