'EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED', is an oft used description for Lebanese politics, this strategically important country of three million people once again thrust into the forefront of America's war on terror. But even the most sanguine of observers were surprised by an unlikely and still unresolved event that occurred in late April, and even more surprised by the rumours swirling around Beirut thereafter.
On 24 April, on a main road near the southern Lebanese town of Khiyam, six United Nations peacekeepers--three Colombian and three Spanish military officials--were killed by an explosion, the type of detonation and delivery method immediately in dispute. That this deadly attack occurred in Lebanon's currently peaceful border area, the scene of Hizbullah's victory in its war with Israel last summer, set off alarm bells in Beirut.
"Apparently it was a car bomb attack,' Unifil spokesman Milos Strugar said, "but investigations are still on going." For their part, the American-backed Lebanese security forces continue to claim that a roadside bomb had been used, while offering no evidence to back up their assertion. Either way, one thing became immediately clear; no part of Lebanon was immune from the violence racking it, particularly as this surprising attack on the UN peacekeepers followed an equally unexpected two-rocket attack on Israel by a previously unknown group calling itself the Jihad Badr Brigade, Lebanon Branch, only a few days before. Coming at the same time as the Lebanese Army was locked in deadly combat with the Fatah Al Islam militants in the northern Lebanese Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr Al Bared, these two unexpected events are indicative of an increasingly bitter but complex struggle between the US-backed Siniora government and the militant opposition forces supported by a confidently aggressive Syria and Iran.
Condemnations immediately poured in, the most important being from Hizbullah, which retains de-facto control over the southern border region, and therefore has most to lose, namely that it is still re-arming for what most expect to be round two of the ongoing conflict with Israel in a few years time.
"Hizbullah vigorously condemns this attack and considers it a suspicious act that hurts Lebanon and its inhabitants," the militia group's spokesman stated. "This act of aggression is aimed at increasing insecurity in Lebanon, especially in the south of the country."
So if not Hizbullah, who then? And who, or what, is the Jihad...