x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Violence spills across borders as Syrians clash

Until recently, the spread of sectarian strife from Syria into Lebanon was a matter of speculation; it is now a reality.

Recent clashes in Lebanon are not a mirror of the conflict in Syria, but they are a manifestation of the sectarian division that is increasingly prevailing in the region since the Syrian regime's clampdown began 14 months ago.

Rising sectarian tensions, stoked by continued bloodshedwill have serious consequences that will not end with the downfall of the Baathist regime. The longer Bashar Al Assad and his men remain in power, the more such violence can be expected.

After a week of clashes between the Sunni Bab Al Tabbaneh gangs and the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen, two Sunni clerics were shot dead in Tripoli on Sunday by Lebanese army officers, believed to be loyal to the Syrian regime. The trouble spread to Beirut yesterday, with at least two more killed. Until recently, the spread of sectarian strife into Lebanon was a matter of speculation; it is now a reality.

Yet the international community still exhibits a lack of urgency to end the massacres in Syria. The rest of the world must do something to end the stagnation made possible by the feeble "ceasefire" mediated by the former UN chief Kofi Annan.

More than a month has passed since the accord took effect. No progress has been made halting the violence, let alone towards democracy. None of the agreement's clauses have been implemented. The violence did decrease significantly after the ceasefire was announced, but the daily death toll is now edging back to the pre-ceasefire level. The plan has succeeded only in conferring some legitimacy on Mr Al Assad.

Domestically, the suicide bombings in various cities are also a worrying development. The regime appears to be pushing for violence, after the peaceful aspect of the uprising recently gained momentum after being overshadowed by attacks by the Free Syrian Army. Students at Aleppo University have been protesting peacefully against Mr Al Assad for weeks, prompting the regime to close the university this week.

Mr Annan's peace plan expires in two months, and the regime must not be allowed to manipulate it to buy more time. The international community must remember that the government in Damascus is the cause of violence. The world must increase its pressure on the Assad regime, instead of offering it a way to cling to power any longer.