x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sunni sheikhs beaten up, testing Lebanon peace

Four Sunni Muslim scholars have been beaten up in two separate attacks in Beirut, testing a fragile peace between the sects and factions that fought Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

BEIRUT // Four Sunni Muslim scholars were beaten up in two separate attacks in Beirut, testing a fragile peace between the sects and factions that fought Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

Mazen Hariri and Ahmed Fekhran, both scholars at Lebanon's highest Sunni seat of learning, Dar Al Fatwa, were attacked by a group of men in the mainly Shiite Khandak Al Ghamik area on Sunday night after they left the Mohammed Al Amin mosque in downtown Beirut, security sources said yesterday.

Ibrahim Abdul-Latif and Omar Imani, also Sunni scholars, were also assaulted in Shiyah, a Shiite district in southern Beirut.

The two main Shiite parties in Lebanon, the militant Hizbollah group and Amal, were quick to condemn the attacks and handed over five suspects to security forces, the sources said. They said the five men had been under the influence of drugs.

The extent of the injuries inflicted on the Sunni scholars was not clear, but a photo of two of them posted on Facebook showed one in a neck brace and the other with a bruised face.

Lebanon's civil war ended in 1990, but its political system remains based on sectarian allegiances and the country is occasionally beset by clashes between militant groups and vitriolic rhetoric from some politicians.

Lebanon's grand mufti, Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, said yesterday that the attacks were the result of a "political war" by Sunni and Shiite leaders. He described condemnations of the perpetrators as insufficient and demanded swift action.

The prime minister, Najib Mikati, a Sunni, said on his Twitter account that the assailants would be held accountable as countrywide protests erupted briefly on Sunday night.

The two-year conflict in neighbouring Syria - which pits mainly Sunni Muslims against the president, Bashar Al Assad, who comes from the Shiite-derived Alawite sect - has deepened divisions in Lebanon between some Sunnis and Shiites.

A Lebanon-based political scientist, Hilal Khashan, said Syria could be implicated in the attacks because it had warned Lebanese groups not to support the uprising against Mr Al Assad.

"These were two coordinated attacks. The fact that Hizbollah and Amal were quick to condemn the attacks means they wanted to dissociate themselves," he said. "There are those in the region that want to destabilise the country, such as the Syrian regime."

There was no comment from officials in Damascus.