In Tripoli, Lebanon, Syria Conflict Divides Neighboring Districts
On either side of Syria Street, battered buildings house hidden arsenals and legions of angry young men primed to confront their enemies across the road. Edgy lookouts on motorbikes make regular rounds, carrying walkie-talkies and ready to call out the reinforcements if needed.
“We are vigilant. We are lions,” said an enforcer from the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood that rises up a hill from Syria Street, a muscular man in his 30s with watchful eyes and a two-way radio. “If they attack us, then … ” His voice trailed off as he made a swift motion as if slitting a throat.
Throughout the neighborhood of shambolic cafes below the bullet-scarred facades of concrete apartment blocks, outsize posters of “Doctor Bashar” — Syrian President Bashar Assad — rally residents, mostly members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
Down the hill, in the equally frayed streets of the Bab Tabbaneh district, which, like the rest of the city, is predominantly Sunni Muslim, just the mention of the Syrian leader’s name unleashes a slew of epithets: child killer, torturer, tyrant.
This is not war-ravaged Syria, but Lebanon’s second-largest city, Tripoli.
As the conflict in Syria lurches toward all-out civil war, diplomats voice grave concern about “spillover” to neighboring nations, notably Lebanon, where memories of a long, traumatic civil war and the Syrian army’s occupation of the country remain fresh.
But here in Tripoli — more specifically in the volatile districts of Jabal Mohsen and Bab Tabbaneh, divided by the aptly named Syria Street — the “contagion” from Syria has already arrived, and it’s toxic.