Archive for October, 2012

Lebanon launches major security operation

October 22, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese troops launched a major security operation on Monday to open all roads and force gunmen off the streets, trying to contain an outburst of violence set off by the assassination of a top intelligence official who was a powerful opponent of Syria. Sectarian clashes killed at least five people.

Opponents of Syria have blamed the regime in Damascus for the killing of Lebanese Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan in a Beirut car bomb on Friday. With Lebanon already tense and deeply divided over the civil war next door, the assassination has threatened to drag the country back into the kind of sectarian strife that plagued it for decades — much of it linked to Syria.

“The nation is passing through a crucial and critical period and tension has risen in some areas to unprecedented levels,” the army said in a statement. It urged politicians to be careful not to incite violence “because the fate of the nation is on the edge.”

“Security is a red line,” the statement said, adding that strict measures are being taken to “prevent Lebanon from being an arena for settling regional problems.” Cracks of gunfire rang out in Beirut as soldiers and armored personnel carriers with heavy machine guns took up position on major thoroughfares and dismantled roadblocks. The state news agency reported sporadic gunfire in parts of Beirut and around the northern city of Tripoli.

Tripoli saw clashes between two neighborhoods that support opposite sides in Syria’s conflict and have a decades-long history of shooting at each other. Four people were killed in the fighting between the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Tabbaneh and the adjacent Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, which supports the Syrian regime.

Lebanon and Syria share similar sectarian divides that have fed tensions in both countries. Most of Lebanon’s Sunnis have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Lebanese Shiites tend to back President Bashar Assad who belongs to the minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Tripoli residents said scores of soldiers deployed around the city in an attempt to bring back calm. The military also set up checkpoints, searched cars and asked people for identity cards. Security officials also said one man was killed in the Wadi Zayneh area north of the southern city of Sidon. They said the clashes also wounded at least six people in Beirut and 11 in Tripoli. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Hassan, the assassinated intelligence official, was a Sunni who challenged Syria and its powerful Lebanese ally, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Al-Hassan’s killing has imperiled Lebanon’s fragile political balance. Many politicians blamed Syria for the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after al-Hassan’s funeral on Sunday, venting their rage at leaders they consider puppets of a murderous Syrian regime. But they were pushed back by troops who fired their guns in the air and filled the street with tear gas.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, told As-Safir newspaper that when he took up his post last year, he intended to protect all Lebanese, particularly Sunnis. “I was convinced that through this mission, I am protecting my country, my people and especially fellow members of my sect,” he said.

The prime minister of Lebanon is usually a Sunni according to a sectarian division of top posts in the state. Over the past year, pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies have come to dominate the government.

On Sunday night, a group of anti-Syrian protesters started an open-ended sit-in outside Mikati’s house in his hometown of Tripoli. The protesters said they will only end the sit-in when Mikati resigns.

Ambassadors of Britain, the U.S., Russia, China and France and the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon met President Michel Suleiman to express support for him. “The permanent members at the United Nations call upon all the parties in Lebanon to preserve stability,” Derek Plumbly, the U.N. representative, told reporters in Arabic while surrounded by the five ambassadors. “We strongly condemn any attempt to shake Lebanon’s stability.”

Later in the day, Mikati met with Suleiman but did not make any statements afterward. An Associated Press photographer saw dozens of gunmen roaming the streets on Monday in Beirut’s predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Tariq Jadideh, where fighting has taken place. Local Sunni leaders were calling the gunmen by telephone urging them to pull out of the streets.

In some roads around Tariq Jadideh, masked Sunni gunmen set up checkpoints, stopping cars and asking people about their destination and where they were coming from. A woman who lives in the neighborhood said the fighting began shortly after midnight and lasted until sunrise.

“We couldn’t sleep because of the shooting. There were also some booms,” she said, referring to rocket-propelled grenades. She asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisals.

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Assad forces raid town; leader of Syrian Free Army denies being arrested

Tuesday, 04 October 2011

Leader of the so-called Syrian Free Army, Col. Riyadh al-Asaad, denied to Al Arabiya the media reports about his arrest by Syrian government forces.

Syrian forces hunted protesters in the central region of Homs as they sought to crush armed resistance that is emerging after six months of protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, Reuters reported.

Monday’s crackdown came a day after Syrian opposition groups met in Istanbul and urged international action to stop what they called indiscriminate killings of civilians by the authorities.

The United States welcomed the development, saying it was encouraged by the opposition’s statements supporting non-violence, and blamed the mounting death toll on the Syrian authorities.

Local activists said a military operation on Monday focused on Talbiseh near Homs, 150 km (94 miles) north of Damascus, after security forces entered the nearby town of Rastan, which lies on the highway between the capital and the northern city of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the defected Khalid Ibn al-Walid battalion said that it has withdrawn from Rastan for the sake of protecting civilian lives.

Battling protesters and army deserters

For about a week, tank- and helicopter-backed troops have battled protesters and army deserters in Rastan, in the most sustained fighting since Syria’s uprising began in March. The official Syrian news agency said on Saturday government forces had regained control of the town.

“Tank fire targeted Talbiseh this morning and communications remain cut. The town was key in supplying Rastan and now it is being punished for that,” one activist said. “House to house arrests are continuing in the area for the second day.”

Armed protesters, mostly in the central Homs region and the northwestern province of Idlib, have been so far outgunned.

Activists said dozens of villagers had been arrested in Talbiseh in the past 48 hours and there were deaths and casualties from the raids.

Information also was scarce from Rastan, which has been sealed off since tanks moved in at the weekend. Activists said hundreds of people were believed to have been arrested and held in schools and factories in the town.

Activists told The Associated Press that Syrian troops, going house to house, have detained more than 3,000 people in the past three days in Rastan, which saw some of the worst fighting of the 6-month-old uprising recently.

The activist group Local Coordination Committees said fighting in the town has now stopped after the military operation that left dozens dead. The group and a Rastan-based activist confirmed about 3,000 in the town of 70,000 had been detained. The activist told AP by telephone that the detainees are being held at a cement factory, as well as some schools and the Sports Club, a massive, four-story compound.

“Ten of my relatives have been detained,” said the activist, who asked that he be identified only by his first name Hassan for fear of retaliation. He said he was speaking from hiding in Rastan.

Events on the ground are difficult to verify as the authorities have expelled independent journalists from the country or banned them from working, although some foreign reporters have been allowed to visit.

While some Assad opponents have taken up arms, others are still staging demonstrations against his 11-year rule. Night protests erupted on Sunday in several districts of Homs, where a crowd in the Khalidiya district shouted, “Homs is free.”

Assad, 46, who succeeded his father in 2000, blames the violence on foreign-backed armed gangs. His officials say 700 police and soldiers have died, as well as 700 “mutineers.”

Surge in sectarian killings

A surge in sectarian killings has heightened tensions in the city. The state news agency said “armed terrorist groups” killed five people there on Monday. Residents said two bodies had turned up in the city’s Sunni Qarabid neighborhood.

Homs has a mixed population, with a few Alawite neighborhoods inhabited by members of Assad’s minority sect, alongside others populated by majority Sunni Muslims.

Underlining the turn towards violence, the authorities said Sariya Hassoun, the son of Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, Syria’s state-appointed top cleric, was assassinated in Idlib on Sunday.

It was the first attack on the state-backed Sunni clergy who have backed Assad for decades, despite widespread Sunni resentment at Alawite dominance.

As Syria’s struggle has grown bloodier, claiming at least 2,700 lives so far, according to a U.N. count, demonstrators have begun to demand some form of international protection that stops short of Libya-style Western military intervention.

A statement issued in Istanbul on Sunday by a newly formed opposition National Council rejected intervention that “compromises Syria’s sovereignty,” but said the outside world had a humanitarian obligation to protect the Syrian people.

“The Council demands that international governments and organizations meet their responsibility to support the Syrian people, protect them and stop the crimes and gross human rights violations being committed by the current illegitimate regime.”

The council said the uprising must remain peaceful but that military assaults, torture and mass arrests were driving Syria “to the edge of civil war and inviting foreign interference.”

It also said the Muslim Brotherhood, the Damascus Declaration — which groups established opposition figures — and grassroots activists had all joined the Council.

Source: al-Arabiya.

Link: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/10/04/170084.html.

Officials: 6 hurt in overnight clashes in Beirut

October 22, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese security officials say overnight clashes in Beirut between Sunni and Shiite gunmen have wounded at least six people.

The officials say troops managed to separate the gunmen and calm returned Monday morning to the two neighborhoods in the capital where fighting had erupted. The officials also reported heavy overnight clashes in the northern city of Tripoli. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Lebanon has been boiling since Friday after an anti-Syrian top intelligence official was assassinated in a Beirut car bombing. The assassination has threatened to shatter the country’s fragile political balance.

Many politicians have blamed Syria for the killing and angry protesters tried to storm the government palace after Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan funeral on Sunday.

Syrian opposition forms united front

October 03, 2011

ISTANBUL/BEIRUT: Syrian opposition movements announced the formation of a “historic” united front against President Bashar Assad’s government at a meeting in Turkey Sunday.

At home, meanwhile, a son of Syria’s grand mufti was killed when his car came under attack from gunmen, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.

Meanwhile, rights activists said that Syrian troops have taken control of the central city of Rastan after sending in 250 tanks to quell clashes between the army and deserters.

The announcement of the Syrian National Council at a news conference in Istanbul appeared to be the most serious step yet to unify a deeply fragmented opposition. It follows five days of intense battles between the Syrian military and army defectors in the country’s central region that raised the specter of all-out armed conflict.

Prominent Syrian opposition figure Bourhan Ghalioun, who read out the founding statement of the SNC at a news conference in Istanbul, accused the Syria of fomenting sectarian strife to maintain its grip on power.

“I think that this [Assad] regime has completely lost the world’s trust,” he said. “The world is waiting for a united Syrian [opposition] that can provide the alternative to this regime, so that they can recognize it,” he added.

“The council denounces the [regime’s] policy of sectarian incitement … which threatens national unity and is pushing the country to the brink of civil war,” he said.

Syria’s volatile sectarian divide means that an armed conflict could rapidly escalate in scale and brutality. The Baath Party leadership is dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

The opposition movement has until now focused on peaceful demonstrations, although recently some protesters have been reported to have taken up arms to defend themselves against military attacks. Army defectors have also been fighting government troops.

In forming a national council, the Syrians are following in the footsteps of Libyan rebels, who formed a National Transitional Council during the uprising that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The Syrian opposition consists of a variety of groups with differing ideologies, including Islamists and secularists, and there have been many meetings of dissidents claiming to represent Syria’s popular uprising since it erupted seven months ago. But the new council is the broadest umbrella movement of revolutionary forces formed so far.

A group of Syrian activists had declared the preliminary formation of the council last month, but its structure, goals and a founding statement signed by major opposition factions, had not been announced until this conference.

The SNC announced in Istanbul appears to have received the recognition of the largest Syrian opposition factions.

Members said it includes representatives from the Damascus Declaration grouping, a pro-democracy network based in the capital, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political party banned in the country, various Kurdish factions, and the grassroots Local Coordination Committees which have led protests across the country, as well as other independent and tribal figures.\

Conference spokesman Ghalioun said a key benefit of the council to the opposition would be to provide a single body with which other countries could coordinate. He urged Syrians everywhere to support it and said it would be a vehicle for democratic change.

The council’s statement said it categorically rejects any foreign intervention or military operations to bring down Assad’s government but called on the international community to “protect the Syrian people” from “the declared war and massacres being committed against them by the regime.”

It said that protesters should continue to use “peaceful means” to topple the Syrian leader.

The organizers have not named a leader for the national council, but appeared to give a leading role to Ghalioun, a popular opposition figure who is also a scholar of contemporary oriental studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In ground developments Sunday, the government said it retook control of the rebellious central town of Rastan after hunting down “armed terrorists” holed up inside. The fighting there highlighted the increasingly militarized nature of an uprising started months ago by peaceful protesters.

Syrian activists say the fighting in Rastan had pitted the Syrian military against hundreds of army defectors who sided with anti-Assad protesters. It was among the worst clashes in the 6-month-old uprising against Assad.

In a separate incident, the 21-year-old son of Syria’s top Sunni Muslim cleric was wounded by gunmen, the state-run SANA news agency reported.

Pro-government Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun’s son Saria was attacked in the Saraqeb region of the restive northern Idlib province as he left the university where he studies, the agency reported. He suffered wounds to his chest and kidney and was being operated upon.

Mufti Hassoun is considered to be a close supporter of President Bashar Assad’s government, and has echoed its claims that the unrest in Syria is the result of a foreign conspiracy.

SANA said Hassoun had died of wounds sustained during an ambush on his car, while traveling between Idlib and Aleppo.

Source: The Daily Star.

Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2011/Oct-03/150327-syrian-opposition-forms-united-front.ashx.

Israeli naval vessels take control of Gaza boat

October 20, 2012

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli troops on Saturday commandeered a Gaza-bound ship that tried to break through Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled seaside strip, the military said. European lawmakers and other pro-Palestinian activists aboard did not resist, and the Finnish-flagged vessel was diverted to an Israeli port.

The trip by the ship, Estelle, marked the latest challenge to the air, land and sea embargo of Gaza that Israel imposed after the Islamic militant Hamas group seized the territory in 2007. Israeli officials say they need to enforce the blockade to prevent weapons smuggling.

Hamas called for more attempts to break the sea blockade. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement praising the military for enforcing the blockade, said there “is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and accused the activists of trying to “to provoke and slander Israel’s name.”

“If human rights were really important to these activists they would have sailed for Syria. We will continue to protect our borders,” he said. Six Israeli naval vessels stopped the Estelle when it was about 30 nautical miles from Gaza, and masked soldiers boarder the ship and ordered it to sail to Israel’s Ashdod port, said Victoria Strand, a spokeswoman for the activists. The boat arrived at the port Saturday night and will be inspected to see what is on board, the Israeli military said.

The activists will be questioned by immigration officials and then deported to their home countries within 72 hours, said Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for Israel’s Interior Ministry. The Swedish-owned Estelle left Naples, Italy, on Oct. 7 with about 30 people from eight countries, including lawmakers from Norway, Sweden, Greece and Spain, as well as Israeli activists and a 79-year-old former legislator from Canada.

Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Avital Leibovich accused the activists of staging a provocation. “We have this blockade because there are constant smuggling attempts of weapons, munitions that eventually reach the hands of terror organizations inside Gaza,” she said.

Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar rounds toward Israeli border towns. Although Hamas and Israel have maintained an unwritten truce for more than two years, violence occasionally flares in the area. Most recently, an Israeli strike on a prominent al-Qaida-inspired jihadi prompted two days of tit-for-tat rocket fire and strikes last week.

Strand, a spokeswoman for the activists, said the takeover of the Estelle by Israeli forces was a “demonstration of ruthlessness.” The ship was carrying cement, basketballs and musical instruments, Strand said. It was emblazoned with “Ship to Gaza” on one side, and also flew the colorful red, green, black and white Palestinian flag.

Israel, aided by Egypt, closed Gaza’s borders after Hamas seized control and drove out forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas more than five years ago. Israel eased its restrictions after its raid of a Turkish-led blockade-busting flotilla in 2010 left nine activists dead and sparked international condemnation.

Still, Israel continues to block sea access to Gaza and severely restricts its ability to export goods and import raw materials. Activists say the blockade amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.6 million residents, denying them the chance to trade and travel freely. Neighboring Egypt continues to impose restrictions at its passenger crossing with Gaza.

The blockade has deepened the hardships in Gaza, where three in four residents rely on U.N. food aid to get by, according to U.N. figures. “It’s hard to imagine what threat one sailboat, loaded with humanitarian supplies and a small number of people, could do to” Israel’s mighty military, said Eva Manly, the wife of former Canadian parliamentarian James Manly. She said she lost contact with her 79-year-old husband early Saturday.

Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Joshua Hantman said the goods onboard would be checked before entering Gaza through the Israeli-controlled land crossing, Kerem Shalom. He said Israel allows some 50,000 tons of goods into Gaza every week. Gaza residents also use dozens of smuggling tunnels linked to neighboring Egypt to bring in contraband goods, particularly construction materials.

Hantman said militants have tried in the past to smuggle weapons into Gaza by sea. In 2011, a vessel carrying 50 tons of weaponry sought to reach Gaza, while in 2009, a boat tried to bring in some 500 tons of weapons, he said.

A Hamas spokesman condemned Israel’s actions as “piracy.” “This confirms that the (Israeli) occupation is maintaining its control and isolation of Gaza. There must be more flotillas of solidarity activists to Gaza,” said Fawzi Barhoum.

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.

Lebanese on edge after car bomb linked to Syria

October 21, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese protesters erected flaming roadblocks and gunmen roamed the streets on Saturday in a city on edge after the assassination of a top security official in a powerful car bomb the prime minister linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria.

The crisis raised a terrifying specter for Lebanese who fear their country could easily plunge back into cycles of violence and reprisal that have haunted it for decades. Friday’s blast in the heart of Beirut’s Christian area killed eight people, including the country’s intelligence chief, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan. It was the deadliest bombing in Beirut in four years, shattering the country’s uneasy calm.

The government declared a national day of mourning for the victims Saturday, but protesters burned tires and set up roadblocks in anger. Sharbal Abdo, who lives in the neighborhood where the bomb went off, brought his 6-year-old son, Chris, and 12-year-old daughter, Jane, to see the destruction Saturday.

“They were very afraid yesterday,” he said. “They need to face this situation. It may be their future.” Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday linked the bombing to al-Hassan’s high-profile investigation this summer that uncovered what authorities called a plot by Syria to provoke chaos in Lebanon with bombings and assassinations.

“I don’t want to prejudge the investigation, but in fact we cannot separate yesterday’s crime from the revelation of the explosions that could have happened,” Mikati said at a news conference following an emergency Cabinet meeting.

Mikati, who opponents believe is too close to Syria and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, offered to resign after the bombing, but was asked by President Michel Suleiman to stay. Al-Hassan’s probe led to the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, one of Assad’s most loyal allies in Lebanon. Samaha, who is in custody, is accused of plotting a wave of attacks in Lebanon at Syria’s behest. Indicted in absentia in the August sweep was Syrian Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s highest aides.

Samaha’s arrest was an embarrassing blow to Syria, which has long acted with impunity in Lebanon. Syria has powerful allies here, including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which now dominates the government.

For much of the past 30 years, Lebanese have lived under Syrian military and political domination. Damascus’ hold on Lebanon began to slip in 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in truck bomb along Beirut’s Mediterranean waterfront. Syria denied having any role. But broad public outrage in Lebanon forced Syria to withdraw its troops from the country.

The killings of anti-Syrian figures continued for years, however, and Assad has managed to maintain his influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah and other allies. Now, as the Syrian civil war rages just across the border, Lebanon increasingly is getting sucked in.

Mikati said Saturday he had offered to resign after Friday’s car bomb, but said Suleiman asked him not to plunge the country into more uncertainty. The bombing raised fears that the crisis could unleash Lebanon’s sectarian tensions, a dire scenario for a country that endured a devastating civil war of its own from 1975-1990.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke Saturday with Suleiman and stressed the importance of “dissociating the country from regional events” and in Lebanon’s sovereignty, a U.N. spokesman said. The Syrian unrest has already enflamed tensions here. Many of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Shiite Muslims have tended to back Assad. Al-Hassan was a Sunni whose stances were widely seen to oppose Syria and Hezbollah.

Hundreds of Sunni protesters marched in force through downtown Beirut Saturday, placing the blame squarely on Syria and Hezbollah for al-Hassan’s killing. “Hezbollah is a terrorist group!” they shouted.

Police were trying to identify the bombers and find out how they managed to target al-Hassan, an important security figure who traveled under great protection and who likely took more precautions following Samaha’s arrest.

“We don’t expect to reveal the crime within few hours,” police commander Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi told Future TV. “The investigation is like a puzzle. You collect the pieces and put them together in a logical way.”

Al-Hassan had many potential enemies. Besides his investigation of Samaha, al-Hassan helped investigate the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a powerful Sunni figure. An international tribunal indicted four members of Hezbollah for Hariri’s killing, although the group denies involvement.

His department also had a role in breaking up several Israeli spy rings inside Lebanon in recent years, Lebanese officials said. Al-Hassan, 47, who was married with two children, is expected to be buried Sunday next to Hariri’s tomb in downtown Beirut. His family arrived in Lebanon on Saturday on a private plane from Paris, where they live.

Lebanon’s top Sunni cleric, Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, condemned the assassination, calling it a “criminal explosion that targets Lebanon and its people.” He also called for self-restraint, saying “the criminal will get his punishment sooner or later.”

But many Lebanese were seething with anger. In the eastern town of Marj, protesters tried to storm an office of the pro-Syrian Itihad group. Lebanese soldiers pushed them away, wounding five protesters, security officials said. Dozens of people who marched in protest in the border town of Moqueibleh came under fire from the Syrian side of the border, forcing them to disperse, the officials said.

The highway linking central Beirut with the city’s international airport was closed, as well as the highway that links the capital with Syria, the officials said. In the predominantly Sunni northern city of Tripoli, gunmen were roaming the streets on motorcycles and opening fire in the air.

The army issued a statement urging Lebanese to overcome the crisis and coordinate among themselves in order to give a chance to the “the criminal killers who tried through the crime to incite strife and split the country.”

Associated Press writer Barbara Surk contributed to this report.

Protesters block roads in Lebanon after car bomb

October 20, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Protesters burned tires and set up roadblocks around Lebanon on Saturday in a sign of boiling anger over a massive car bomb that killed a top security official and seven other people a day earlier — a devastating attack that threatened to bring Syria’s civil war to Lebanon.

The Lebanese Cabinet was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Saturday as the country’s opposition called for Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign. The state-run National News Agency said security commanders would attend the meeting to discuss how to keep the peace.

The government declared a national day of mourning for the victims, who included Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence division of Lebanon’s domestic security forces. Dozens were wounded in Friday’s blast in Beirut’s mainly Christian Achrafieh neighborhood.

Many observers said the attack appeared to have links to the Syrian civil war, which has been raging for 19 months. Al-Hassan, 47, headed an investigation over the summer that led to the arrest of former Information Minister Michel Samaha, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most loyal allies in Lebanon.

Samaha, who is in custody, is accused of plotting a campaign of bombings and assassinations to spread sectarian violence in Lebanon at Syria’s behest. Also indicted in the August sweep was Syrian Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, one of Assad’s highest aides.

Lebanon’s fractious politics are closely entwined with Syria’s. The countries share a web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, often causing events on one side of the border to echo on the other. Lebanon’s opposition is an anti-Syrian bloc, while the prime minister and much of the government are pro-Syrian.

The civil war in Syria has laid bare Lebanon’s sectarian tensions as well. Many of Lebanon’s Sunnis have backed Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels, while Shiites have tended to back Assad. Al-Hassan was a Sunni whose stances were widely seen to oppose Syria and the country’s most powerful ally in Lebanon, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

On Friday, protesters in mostly Sunni areas closed roads with burning tires and rocks in Beirut, the southern city of Sidon, the northern city of Tripoli and several towns in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

The highway linking central Beirut with the city’s international airport was closed, as well as the highway that links the capital with Syria, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Rafik Khoury, editor of the independent Al-Anwar daily, said the assassination was an attempt to draw Lebanon into the conflict in Syria, which has been the most serious threat to the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty.

“The side that carried the assassination knows the reactions and dangerous repercussions and is betting that it will happen. Strife is wanted in Lebanon,” Khoury wrote.