Showing posts tagged as "lebanon"

Showing posts tagged lebanon

11 Aug
How to fight Islamic State jihadists 
About a century ago, after World War I, British and French leaders carved up the Middle East and set the modern borders of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Now a growing force of Sunni extremists fighting under the banner of the Islamic State are creating a new nation in the same region … at gunpoint. Its boundaries are not yet set in ink on a map. But the jihadists have seized vast chunks of Syria and Iraq with a clear goal: Establish a new “caliphate,” an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader. Theirs would be a kingdom where justice is dispensed by bullet, blade and sheer savagery.
For America this is a geopolitical crisis that threatens allies in the region. For people who live there this is an existential crisis that many of them cannot survive without more help from Western powers and Arab countries in the jihadists’ sights.
FULL ARTICLE (The Chicago Tribune)
Photo: CIA/flickr

How to fight Islamic State jihadists 

About a century ago, after World War I, British and French leaders carved up the Middle East and set the modern borders of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Now a growing force of Sunni extremists fighting under the banner of the Islamic State are creating a new nation in the same region … at gunpoint. Its boundaries are not yet set in ink on a map. But the jihadists have seized vast chunks of Syria and Iraq with a clear goal: Establish a new “caliphate,” an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader. Theirs would be a kingdom where justice is dispensed by bullet, blade and sheer savagery.

For America this is a geopolitical crisis that threatens allies in the region. For people who live there this is an existential crisis that many of them cannot survive without more help from Western powers and Arab countries in the jihadists’ sights.

FULL ARTICLE (The Chicago Tribune)

Photo: CIA/flickr

6 Jun
How Hezbollah Is Changing the War in Syria - and Vice Versa | Sahar Atrache
Hezbollah is changing the shape of the war in Syria - but the war is also changing Hezbollah, with potentially far-reaching results.
Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has achieved significant gains: it has provided the Syrian regime momentum, averting its military defeat; dislodged rebels from areas adjacent to the borders; stopped further outrages against Shiites; and prevented a detrimental recalibration of the regional balance of power.
From Hezbollah’s perspective, its intervention became a strategic necessity as the initial Syrian uprising morphed into a zero-sum regional war. It has come to see the potential loss of its Damascus ally as an existential threat, placing it next in line, and frames the war as being aimed at the so-called “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Hezbollah, Iran and the Syrian regime.
Moreover, the flow of foreign jihadis into the armed opposition constituted a genuine, long-term threat to Hezbollah. It declared a preemptive war against what it labels takfiris (Islamists who denounce others as infidels or impious), regardless of the differences and divergences among Syrian armed groups. In May 2013, Hezbollah publicly spearheaded an assault against Syrian rebels in the border town of Qusayr.
In February 2014, Hezbollah sent its troops to the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus and led the campaign to capture Yabroud, allegedly the transit hub for car bombs smuggled into Lebanon that targeted the party, Iranian assets and predominantly Shiite neighborhoods. The party’s detractors accuse it of deploying fighters across Syria, in particular in Deraa, Aleppo and Idlib, in addition to Damascus and its suburbs.
The result of this, however, has been that Hezbollah (“party of God” in Arabic), once widely respected by Sunnis in Syria and the region for its military struggle against Israel, is now frequently dubbed the “Party of Satan.” However extreme, this labeling reflects the depth of the shift.
Hezbollah is being transformed by the conflict. Over many years, it meticulously built its reputation as an organization of principle. But it is now losing its hard-won soft power and growing more accustomed to relying on hard power to achieve its strategic objectives. The enmity this metamorphosis engenders is, ironically, fuelling the very same threats the party strives to repel. Its involvement ignites the extremism it is combatting as it deepens the regional sectarian rift. It also endangers its own strategic depth as it alienates wide segments of the Syrian population.
Despite the fact that the Syrian regime’s immediate survival is no longer at stake and Lebanese-Syrian borders largely secured, as party leader Hassan Nasrallah has affirmed, Hezbollah is not providing signs that it will withdraw from Syria anytime soon. Some among the movement’s regional and wider international critics might see a silver lining in these developments: Hezbollah is mired in a war of attrition in Syria, fighting a determined and radical enemy, and is distracted from its traditional focus on Israel. But the same vortex is pulling in both Hezbollah and its enemies, with no prospect of escape for either. Nor will the critics relish the spread of the Shiite jihadism that, alongside a growing Sunni jihadism, the Syrian war is nurturing.
This has grim implications for Lebanon, which depends for its well being on an always difficult balancing act among Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze. Lebanon is holding itself together for now, through what is known as “the security plan,” but the respite is likely temporary. Lebanon’s Sunnis are frustrated; Shiites, whose memories of oppression and marginalization are still vivid, are eager not to lose political and social gains they have acquired in the past decades; and other confessional groups are caught in the middle.
The past two years’ escalation - clashes in Tripoli, Saida and Arsal along with unprecedented waves of suicide attacks against Shiites - is only a foretaste of what could ensue if the security agreement breaks down. Lebanon has long lamented its political paralysis, the latest evidence of which is the leadership void as parliamentarians have failed repeatedly to agree on a new president. Yet, as the Syrian conflict deteriorates further, many Lebanese are hoping for just such a standstill - as a best-case scenario.
Sahar Atrache is a Lebanon analyst for the International Crisis Group, whose latest report is "Lebanon’s Hezbollah Turns Eastward to Syria."
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Photo: Giorgio Montersino/flickr

How Hezbollah Is Changing the War in Syria - and Vice Versa | Sahar Atrache

Hezbollah is changing the shape of the war in Syria - but the war is also changing Hezbollah, with potentially far-reaching results.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has achieved significant gains: it has provided the Syrian regime momentum, averting its military defeat; dislodged rebels from areas adjacent to the borders; stopped further outrages against Shiites; and prevented a detrimental recalibration of the regional balance of power.

From Hezbollah’s perspective, its intervention became a strategic necessity as the initial Syrian uprising morphed into a zero-sum regional war. It has come to see the potential loss of its Damascus ally as an existential threat, placing it next in line, and frames the war as being aimed at the so-called “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Hezbollah, Iran and the Syrian regime.

Moreover, the flow of foreign jihadis into the armed opposition constituted a genuine, long-term threat to Hezbollah. It declared a preemptive war against what it labels takfiris (Islamists who denounce others as infidels or impious), regardless of the differences and divergences among Syrian armed groups. In May 2013, Hezbollah publicly spearheaded an assault against Syrian rebels in the border town of Qusayr.

In February 2014, Hezbollah sent its troops to the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus and led the campaign to capture Yabroud, allegedly the transit hub for car bombs smuggled into Lebanon that targeted the party, Iranian assets and predominantly Shiite neighborhoods. The party’s detractors accuse it of deploying fighters across Syria, in particular in Deraa, Aleppo and Idlib, in addition to Damascus and its suburbs.

The result of this, however, has been that Hezbollah (“party of God” in Arabic), once widely respected by Sunnis in Syria and the region for its military struggle against Israel, is now frequently dubbed the “Party of Satan.” However extreme, this labeling reflects the depth of the shift.

Hezbollah is being transformed by the conflict. Over many years, it meticulously built its reputation as an organization of principle. But it is now losing its hard-won soft power and growing more accustomed to relying on hard power to achieve its strategic objectives. The enmity this metamorphosis engenders is, ironically, fuelling the very same threats the party strives to repel. Its involvement ignites the extremism it is combatting as it deepens the regional sectarian rift. It also endangers its own strategic depth as it alienates wide segments of the Syrian population.

Despite the fact that the Syrian regime’s immediate survival is no longer at stake and Lebanese-Syrian borders largely secured, as party leader Hassan Nasrallah has affirmed, Hezbollah is not providing signs that it will withdraw from Syria anytime soon. Some among the movement’s regional and wider international critics might see a silver lining in these developments: Hezbollah is mired in a war of attrition in Syria, fighting a determined and radical enemy, and is distracted from its traditional focus on Israel. But the same vortex is pulling in both Hezbollah and its enemies, with no prospect of escape for either. Nor will the critics relish the spread of the Shiite jihadism that, alongside a growing Sunni jihadism, the Syrian war is nurturing.

This has grim implications for Lebanon, which depends for its well being on an always difficult balancing act among Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze. Lebanon is holding itself together for now, through what is known as “the security plan,” but the respite is likely temporary. Lebanon’s Sunnis are frustrated; Shiites, whose memories of oppression and marginalization are still vivid, are eager not to lose political and social gains they have acquired in the past decades; and other confessional groups are caught in the middle.

The past two years’ escalation - clashes in Tripoli, Saida and Arsal along with unprecedented waves of suicide attacks against Shiites - is only a foretaste of what could ensue if the security agreement breaks down. Lebanon has long lamented its political paralysis, the latest evidence of which is the leadership void as parliamentarians have failed repeatedly to agree on a new president. Yet, as the Syrian conflict deteriorates further, many Lebanese are hoping for just such a standstill - as a best-case scenario.

Sahar Atrache is a Lebanon analyst for the International Crisis Group, whose latest report is "Lebanon’s Hezbollah Turns Eastward to Syria."

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Photo: Giorgio Montersino/flickr

1 May
LINK

Crisis Watch No. 129

Check out this month’s issue of Crisis Watch as an interactive map. Conflict situations deteriorated in Ukraine, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia while conditions improved in Lebanon. A Conflict Risk Alert was issued for Ukraine.

CrisisWatch N°129  |  01 May 2014
The crisis in Ukraine deepened as pro-Russian separatists seized control of over a dozen towns and cities in the east. Several people were killed in clashes with Ukrainian troops as Kyiv failed to reassert control, amid continuing allegations that Russian security forces are assisting separatists – claims that Russia denies. Police in several major regions refused to take orders from the central government. An agreement reached between the U.S., the EU, Russia, and Ukraine to de-escalate the crisis quickly broke down. At the month’s end acting President Olexander Turchynov announced that the government no longer controlled large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. There are increasing fears that violence will spread and that central control over key areas of the country will continue to shrink, further complicating prospects for elections scheduled for 25 May.
In South Sudan peace appears increasingly distant amid fears the conflict is taking on an increasingly ethnic dimension: both the government and SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO) continued to accuse each other of violating the current ceasefire, and thus far attempts at talks have secured little progress. The killing of over 200 people during the SPLA-IO’s capture of Bentiu town drew international condemnation and allegations that civilians had been targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and the UN rapidly threatened sanctions. Scores were also killed mid-month in an attack on an UNMISS base in Jonglei that was sheltering nearly 5,000 displaced civilians. (See our recent report and video series on the conflict.)
Al-Shabaab retaliatory attacks gathered momentum as the joint military operation led by AMISOM and Somalia’s army (SNA) progressed. Al-Shabaab also began to leverage its control over much of rural south-central Somalia to blockade government-controlled towns, a move which will only increase humanitarian needs and further challenge the government’s attempts to stabilise the country.
Violence escalated in northern Nigeria. Over 500 were killed in attacks by Boko Haram Islamist militants during the first half of April, and over 200 schoolgirls abducted in an attack in Borno state. Security concerns were further heightened when a bomb blast struck a bus station on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, killing over 70. (See our recent report on Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency.)
Security forces in Lebanon started implementing a security plan agreed by the country’s main political factions to stem worsening violence, including checkpoints and patrols, arrests, weapons seizures and raids on militiamen. Thus far the plan has been successful, however a security-based approach is unlikely to offer a sustainable solution while socio-economic grievances mount, sectarian divisions deepen, and political representation remains unaddressed. There are also concerns about the fragility of the political truce underpinning the plan, perceptions of an anti-Sunni bias, and reports that members of the political elite have helped protect favoured militia leaders. 
April 2014 TRENDS*
Deteriorated Situations
Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Ukraine
Improved Situations
Lebanon
Unchanged Situations
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China (internal), China/Japan, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India (non-Kashmir), Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korean Peninsula, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Nepal, Niger, North Caucasus (Russia), Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somaliland, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zimbabwe
May 2014 OUTLOOK 
Conflict Risk Alert
Ukraine
—-
READ THE FULL REPORT
*NOTE: CrisisWatch trends are intended to reflect changes within countries or situations from month to month, not comparisons between countries. For example, no “conflict risk alert” is given for a country where violence has been occurring and is expected to continue in the coming month: such an indicator is given only where new or significantly escalated violence is feared.

CrisisWatch N°129  |  01 May 2014

The crisis in Ukraine deepened as pro-Russian separatists seized control of over a dozen towns and cities in the east. Several people were killed in clashes with Ukrainian troops as Kyiv failed to reassert control, amid continuing allegations that Russian security forces are assisting separatists – claims that Russia denies. Police in several major regions refused to take orders from the central government. An agreement reached between the U.S., the EU, Russia, and Ukraine to de-escalate the crisis quickly broke down. At the month’s end acting President Olexander Turchynov announced that the government no longer controlled large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. There are increasing fears that violence will spread and that central control over key areas of the country will continue to shrink, further complicating prospects for elections scheduled for 25 May.

In South Sudan peace appears increasingly distant amid fears the conflict is taking on an increasingly ethnic dimension: both the government and SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO) continued to accuse each other of violating the current ceasefire, and thus far attempts at talks have secured little progress. The killing of over 200 people during the SPLA-IO’s capture of Bentiu town drew international condemnation and allegations that civilians had been targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and the UN rapidly threatened sanctions. Scores were also killed mid-month in an attack on an UNMISS base in Jonglei that was sheltering nearly 5,000 displaced civilians. (See our recent report and video series on the conflict.)

Al-Shabaab retaliatory attacks gathered momentum as the joint military operation led by AMISOM and Somalia’s army (SNA) progressed. Al-Shabaab also began to leverage its control over much of rural south-central Somalia to blockade government-controlled towns, a move which will only increase humanitarian needs and further challenge the government’s attempts to stabilise the country.

Violence escalated in northern Nigeria. Over 500 were killed in attacks by Boko Haram Islamist militants during the first half of April, and over 200 schoolgirls abducted in an attack in Borno state. Security concerns were further heightened when a bomb blast struck a bus station on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, killing over 70. (See our recent report on Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency.)

Security forces in Lebanon started implementing a security plan agreed by the country’s main political factions to stem worsening violence, including checkpoints and patrols, arrests, weapons seizures and raids on militiamen. Thus far the plan has been successful, however a security-based approach is unlikely to offer a sustainable solution while socio-economic grievances mount, sectarian divisions deepen, and political representation remains unaddressed. There are also concerns about the fragility of the political truce underpinning the plan, perceptions of an anti-Sunni bias, and reports that members of the political elite have helped protect favoured militia leaders. 

April 2014 TRENDS*

Deteriorated Situations

Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Ukraine

Improved Situations

Lebanon

Unchanged Situations

Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China (internal), China/Japan, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India (non-Kashmir), Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korean Peninsula, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Nepal, Niger, North Caucasus (Russia), Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somaliland, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zimbabwe

May 2014 OUTLOOK 

Conflict Risk Alert

Ukraine

—-

READ THE FULL REPORT

*NOTE: CrisisWatch trends are intended to reflect changes within countries or situations from month to month, not comparisons between countries. For example, no “conflict risk alert” is given for a country where violence has been occurring and is expected to continue in the coming month: such an indicator is given only where new or significantly escalated violence is feared.

3 Feb
Catch up on the world’s conflicts in this month’s CrisisWatch map.

Catch up on the world’s conflicts in this month’s CrisisWatch map.

9 Sep
Heed Syria refugee crisis: Column | Lionel Beehner
The aerial footage of the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border with Jordan — row upon dusty row of squat trailers and tents as far as the eye can see, like a desert version of Oz — could become the iconic image of this war, along with photos of children gassed outside Damascus.
While the images of the chemical attacks capture the inhumanity of this conflict, the aerial shots of the camp capture the scale. More than 2 million Syrians have fled the war, half of them children, making it the world’s worst refugee crisis since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Left unaddressed, the crisis risks destabilizing Syria’s neighbors and disposing any hope of instilling peace and democracy in the region.
FULL ARTICLE (USA Today)
Photo: Freedom House/Flickr

Heed Syria refugee crisis: Column | Lionel Beehner

The aerial footage of the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border with Jordan — row upon dusty row of squat trailers and tents as far as the eye can see, like a desert version of Oz — could become the iconic image of this war, along with photos of children gassed outside Damascus.

While the images of the chemical attacks capture the inhumanity of this conflict, the aerial shots of the camp capture the scale. More than 2 million Syrians have fled the war, half of them children, making it the world’s worst refugee crisis since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Left unaddressed, the crisis risks destabilizing Syria’s neighbors and disposing any hope of instilling peace and democracy in the region.

FULL ARTICLE (USA Today)

Photo: Freedom House/Flickr

3 Jun
CrisisWatch N°118  |  (01 Jun 2013)
The Syrian crisis continues to draw in its neighbours, threatening to set off a wider regional conflict. Israel launched its first major strike inside Syria, sending jets reportedly to target Iranian missiles bound for Hizbollah. The Syrian regime threatened to retaliate immediately and harshly to any further attack, and to turn the Golan Heights into a new front against Israel. The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syria but said there were no immediate plans to arm the rebels. Russia’s decision to honour its 2010 contract to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime prompted calls from the U.S., France and Israel to reconsider. Israel’s defence minister suggested Israel could resort to force to prevent delivery of the weapons. The U.S. and Russia agreed to convene a new peace conference in Geneva in June, but it remains uncertain whether the parties will come to seek compromise. (See our recent commentary in French).
Lebanon is becoming ever more deeply implicated in the Syrian conflict. Hizbollah extended more overt and extensive military support to the Syrian regime, including fighting against rebels in al-Qusayr near the Lebanese border, and for the first time openly declaring its military support to the regime. Lebanese Sunni Islamists are increasingly backing Syria’s rebels. Tensions increased within Lebanon, with sectarian violence between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli reaching levels not seen since the country’s civil war.
In Iraq more than a thousand people were killed in sectarian attacks and bombings fuelled by the country’s deepening political crisis, making May the country’s deadliest month in five years. Hopes for a political breakthrough faded as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi blamed each other for mounting violence. The government’s crackdown on Sunni protesters continued to spur a re-emerging insurgency and retaliatory attacks, leaving the country again teetering on the brink of civil conflict.
In Bahrain the Shiite opposition al-Wifaq announced its withdrawal from the National Dialogue for two weeks after government security forces raided the house of the most prominent Shiite cleric Issa Qassem. In the face of political impasse, al-Wifaq called for intensified protests ahead of polls scheduled for next year.
In Madagascar, presidential elections scheduled for July and intended to end four years of political deadlock were postponed after transitional president Andry Rajoelina refused to step down ahead of polling, violating the electoral law. The September 2011 transition roadmap appeared to be unravelling as former first lady Lalao Ravalomanana, Rajoelina and former president Didier Ratsiraka all announced that they would contest the election, and the electoral court validated their applications. Rajoelina and Ratsiraka had pledged not to run, while Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidacy is widely viewed as a proxy for her husband, former president Marc Ravalomanana, who had also promised not to compete. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community said they would not recognise the outcome of the elections should any of these candidates win, and the UN said its continued support is contingent on compliance with the roadmap.
Protests against Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold mine escalated and took a violent turn in late May. Protesters demanding an end to alleged environmental pollution from operations at the mine and calling for it to be nationalised blocked the road to the mine and cut off power. The government declared a state of emergency after police clashed with some 3,000 protesters who were attempting to storm mining company offices. The mine is one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest sources of foreign earnings, and disruption to its operations could damage the country’s faltering economy. Despite the protesters’ environmental demands, much of the unrest appears to have been organised by the nationalist Ata Jurt party. Protestors in the southern city of Jalal-Abad seized government buildings demanding the release of three jailed Ata Jurt members.
In a boost to Colombia’s peace process, the government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, announced on 26 May that they had reached an agreement on rural development, the first agenda item in peace talks which began over six months ago (see our recent blog post). President Juan Manuel Santos said that the four main points include access to and use of land, rural development programs, health and education for the rural poor, and food security. The talks will now turn to political participation. Hopes that peace talks with Colombia’s second guerrilla group the ELN (National Liberation Army) would begin in May suffered a setback, however, when the ELN killed eleven soldiers in an ambush in Norte de Santander.
In Myanmar the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation agreed a seven-point peace pact at the end of the month. The talks, convened for first time in the government-controlled capital of Kachin state, had previously been in deadlock. The deal means that in principle hostilities with all major armed groups in the country have stopped. Crisis Group identifies a Conflict Resolution Opportunity for Myanmar. The month also saw the Rakhine State government announce it was reactivating an earlier local directive imposing a two-child limit for families in Muslim-majority areas of the state, prompting local and international condemnation. There was a further outbreak of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence at the end of the month, this time in the northern town Lashio; one person was reported killed (see our recent blog post and commentary).
FULL CRISISWATCH
Photo: James Gordon/Flickr

CrisisWatch N°118  |  (01 Jun 2013)

The Syrian crisis continues to draw in its neighbours, threatening to set off a wider regional conflict. Israel launched its first major strike inside Syria, sending jets reportedly to target Iranian missiles bound for Hizbollah. The Syrian regime threatened to retaliate immediately and harshly to any further attack, and to turn the Golan Heights into a new front against Israel. The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syria but said there were no immediate plans to arm the rebels. Russia’s decision to honour its 2010 contract to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime prompted calls from the U.S., France and Israel to reconsider. Israel’s defence minister suggested Israel could resort to force to prevent delivery of the weapons. The U.S. and Russia agreed to convene a new peace conference in Geneva in June, but it remains uncertain whether the parties will come to seek compromise. (See our recent commentary in French).

Lebanon is becoming ever more deeply implicated in the Syrian conflict. Hizbollah extended more overt and extensive military support to the Syrian regime, including fighting against rebels in al-Qusayr near the Lebanese border, and for the first time openly declaring its military support to the regime. Lebanese Sunni Islamists are increasingly backing Syria’s rebels. Tensions increased within Lebanon, with sectarian violence between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli reaching levels not seen since the country’s civil war.

In Iraq more than a thousand people were killed in sectarian attacks and bombings fuelled by the country’s deepening political crisis, making May the country’s deadliest month in five years. Hopes for a political breakthrough faded as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi blamed each other for mounting violence. The government’s crackdown on Sunni protesters continued to spur a re-emerging insurgency and retaliatory attacks, leaving the country again teetering on the brink of civil conflict.

In Bahrain the Shiite opposition al-Wifaq announced its withdrawal from the National Dialogue for two weeks after government security forces raided the house of the most prominent Shiite cleric Issa Qassem. In the face of political impasse, al-Wifaq called for intensified protests ahead of polls scheduled for next year.

In Madagascar, presidential elections scheduled for July and intended to end four years of political deadlock were postponed after transitional president Andry Rajoelina refused to step down ahead of polling, violating the electoral law. The September 2011 transition roadmap appeared to be unravelling as former first lady Lalao Ravalomanana, Rajoelina and former president Didier Ratsiraka all announced that they would contest the election, and the electoral court validated their applications. Rajoelina and Ratsiraka had pledged not to run, while Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidacy is widely viewed as a proxy for her husband, former president Marc Ravalomanana, who had also promised not to compete. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community said they would not recognise the outcome of the elections should any of these candidates win, and the UN said its continued support is contingent on compliance with the roadmap.

Protests against Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold mine escalated and took a violent turn in late May. Protesters demanding an end to alleged environmental pollution from operations at the mine and calling for it to be nationalised blocked the road to the mine and cut off power. The government declared a state of emergency after police clashed with some 3,000 protesters who were attempting to storm mining company offices. The mine is one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest sources of foreign earnings, and disruption to its operations could damage the country’s faltering economy. Despite the protesters’ environmental demands, much of the unrest appears to have been organised by the nationalist Ata Jurt party. Protestors in the southern city of Jalal-Abad seized government buildings demanding the release of three jailed Ata Jurt members.

In a boost to Colombia’s peace process, the government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, announced on 26 May that they had reached an agreement on rural development, the first agenda item in peace talks which began over six months ago (see our recent blog post). President Juan Manuel Santos said that the four main points include access to and use of land, rural development programs, health and education for the rural poor, and food security. The talks will now turn to political participation. Hopes that peace talks with Colombia’s second guerrilla group the ELN (National Liberation Army) would begin in May suffered a setback, however, when the ELN killed eleven soldiers in an ambush in Norte de Santander.

In Myanmar the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation agreed a seven-point peace pact at the end of the month. The talks, convened for first time in the government-controlled capital of Kachin state, had previously been in deadlock. The deal means that in principle hostilities with all major armed groups in the country have stopped. Crisis Group identifies a Conflict Resolution Opportunity for Myanmar. The month also saw the Rakhine State government announce it was reactivating an earlier local directive imposing a two-child limit for families in Muslim-majority areas of the state, prompting local and international condemnation. There was a further outbreak of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence at the end of the month, this time in the northern town Lashio; one person was reported killed (see our recent blog post and commentary).

FULL CRISISWATCH

Photo: James Gordon/Flickr

13 May
"A population influx of such magnitude would be a huge problem anywhere. In Lebanon – with fragile institutions and infrastructure; a delicate political and sectarian balance; tense social fabric; and declining economy, all of which the refugee crisis worsens – it is a nightmare."

—from Crisis Group’s most recent report, Too Close for Comfort: Syrians in Lebanon 

"What began as relatively modest help to the regime over time has mushroomed into what now appears to be direct, comprehensive, full-fledged and less and less concealed military support."

—from Crisis Group’s most recent report, Too Close for Comfort: Syrians in Lebanon

"The vast majority are Sunnis who back the uprising. Most Lebanese view the conflict through a sectarian prism, and thus their attitude toward refugees from the outset has largely been informed by confessional considerations, as well as by their potential security impact and implications for future domestic politics."

—from Crisis Group’s most recent report, Too Close for Comfort: Syrians in Lebanon