Clash Feared as Syrian, Lebanese Groups Call for Rival Demos
Calls for rival demos at the same place and time by a number of Syrian and Lebanese groups and threats of violence from some parties have sparked concerns that the Samir Qassir Square in central Beirut could witness a Syrian-Lebanese clash on Tuesday.
“We call on the interior minister to ban the protest of Syrian regime opponents on Tuesday because a lot of Lebanese will take part in the rival demo and a problem will erupt,” Arab Tawhid Party chief Wiam Wahhab, who is a staunch supporter of Damascus, warned.
“We call on all Lebanese to rally on Tuesday in support of the Lebanese army in the face of terrorism,” he tweeted.
Wahhab also threatened that “if the State does not ban the demo that is against the Lebanese army, many Lebanese forces will take charge of this and the protest will be prohibited.”
A Facebook page called The Union of Syrian People in Lebanon had initially posted a call for a Saturday demo before postponing the event to Tuesday.
“Independent Syrian and Lebanese activists and civil society groups are organizing a sit-in in solidarity with the Syrian refugees on Saturday, July 15 at Beirut's Samir Qassir Square,” the invitation text said.
The page has stressed that it is calling for a “peaceful” demo and that the organizers have an authorization from the interior ministry.
“They are saying that our demo is against the Lebanese army and this is untrue. The protest will be peaceful and in solidarity with the Syrians in Lebanon and their rights. The participants will be of several nationalities and will comprise supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime,” the page announced on Saturday, in the wake of Wahhab's tweets.
The rival calls amid tensions sparked by the army's recent raids on two Syrian refugee encampments in and around the northeastern border town of Arsal in which more than 350 Syrians were detained.
The mass arrests followed a confrontation between troops and a number of militants in the two encampments during which five men blew themselves up and others hurled grenades at the army.
The army said seven soldiers were wounded and a Syrian child was killed in the incident.
The military's treatment of detainees after the Arsal operation has sparked fierce controversy in Lebanon and among Syrians, particularly after images emerged of troops apparently detaining scores of refugees and an army announcement that four detainees had died due to “chronic health problems aggravated by weather conditions.”