Tensions run high in Lebanon as the government declared an emergency meeting following a bomb attack that killed a top security official. Clashes and protests have been reported throughout the country amid opposition calls for the PM to resign.
The official, Lebanese Internal Security Forces chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, was directly involved in providing logistical and supply-line support in Lebanon for the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is attempting to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The assassination was likely intended to disrupt the Syrian rebels' support networks -- as well as to trigger a series of retaliatory strikes against Syrian assets and allies and to spark a broader increase in sectarian conflict in Lebanon.
To expand its operations in Syria, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) must secure supplies of weapons, food, water and other necessities. As we pointed out in January this year the most important supply lines for the rebels come from Lebanon.
Riots and protests continued into Saturday as thousands of people across Lebanon voiced their ire at the car bomb blast in Beirut on Friday that claimed the lives of eight people. Over a hundred people were also injured in the explosion that killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan.
Enraged citizens have blocked roads with burning tires as a sign of their protest, while clashes in the city of Tripoli close to the southern Syrian border fueled fears the Syria’s conflict is overflowing across the border.
Apart from his involvement with the rebel supply lines recently Hassan, 47, a Sunni Muslim, had helped uncover a bomb plot that led to the arrest and indictment in August of a pro-Assad former Lebanese minister.
He also led an investigation that implicated Syria and Hezbollah, the powerful, predominantly Shia Muslim-backed group, in the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, a former prime minister, in 2005.
Recently also Hezbollah flew an Iranian drone from Lebanon into Israel.
The reason why there are requests for prime minister Mikati to step dawn is because the opposition and its supporters believe Mikati is too close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which is part of Mikati's government.
The funeral of al-Hariri in a few days will probably be used as a rallying point by the opposition.
The Syrian regime clearly has a strategic interest in stirring up sectarian tensions and triggering retaliatory strikes in Lebanon. Facing fractures within its Alawite core and increasing pressure on its supply lines, the regime needs to change the strategic environment. It has also seen its close ally, Hezbollah, limit the support it has traditionally provided to Damascus and essentially take a self-preservation posture.
Lebanon's religious communities it should be noted are divided between those who support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - including many Shias - and those mostly from the Sunni community who back the rebels (on Sunni Islam see also).
The Oct. 19 attack could intimidate anti-al Assad individuals in Lebanon from becoming more involved in the Syrian conflict. More important, instability and sectarian clashes in Lebanon -- especially ones that involve the Lebanese Alawites or Shiites - could weaken support for the rebels in Syria while reviving support for al Assad.
Indeed, retaliatory attacks already seem to have started. Supporters of al-Hassan and the Future Movement will likely target Syrian assets in Lebanon, including Syria-allied businessmen, intelligence operatives and even Syrian businesses. Actions against Syria's main allies in Lebanon - Hezbollah and its March 8 coalition partners, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Shiite Amal Movement - is also likely. Back-and-forth retaliations along sectarian lines would relieve some of the pressure on Damascus and push the Syrian conflict into Lebanon.
(See also Lebanon chronology of key events underneath the 2e map)
The Syrian regime in particular, facing a fracturing of its Alawite core, could recalculate the value of causing instability next door. And incidents such as the Sassine Square bombing could thus be replicated.
Lebanon chronology of key events:
1920 September - The League of Nations grants the mandate for Lebanon and Syria to France, which creates the State of Greater Lebanon out of the provinces of Mount Lebanon, north Lebanon, south Lebanon and the Bekaa.
1926 May - Lebanese Representative Council approves a constitution and the unified Lebanese Republic under the French mandate is declared.
1940 - Lebanon comes under the control of the Vichy French government.
1941 - After Lebanon is occupied by Free French and British troops in June 1941, independence is declared on 26 November.
1943 March - The foundations of the state are set out in an unwritten National Covenant which uses the 1932 census to distribute seats in parliament on a ratio of six-to-five in favour of Christians. This is later extended to other public offices. The president is to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim.
1943 November-December - Free French forces detain members of the recently-appointed government, which had declared an end to the mandate, before releasing them on 22 November, henceforth known as independence day. France agrees to transfer power to the Lebanese government from 1 January 1944.
1957 - President Camille Chamoun accepts the Eisenhower Doctrine, announced in January, which offers US economic and military aid to Middle Eastern countries to counteract Soviet influence in the region.
1958 - Faced with increasing opposition which develops into a civil war, President Chamoune asks the US to send troops to preserve Lebanon's independence. The US, mindful of the recent overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, sends marines.
1967 June - Lebanon plays no active role in the Arab-Israeli war but is to be affected by its aftermath when Palestinians use Lebanon as a base for attacks on Israel.
1968 December - In retaliation for an attack by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on an Israeli plane in Athens, Israel raids Beirut airport, destroying 13 civilian planes.
1969 November - Army Commander-in-Chief Emile Bustani and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat sign an agreement in Cairo which aims to control Palestinian guerrilla activities in Lebanon.
1973 10 April - Israeli commandos raid Beirut and kill three close associates of Mr Arafat. The Lebanese government resigns the next day.
1975 13 April - Phalangist gunmen ambush a bus in the Ayn-al-Rummanah district of Beirut, killing 27 of its mainly Palestinian passengers. The Phalangists claim that guerrillas had previously attacked a church in the same district. (These clashes are regarded as the start of the civil war).
1976 June - Syrian troops enter Lebanon to restore peace but also to curb the Palestinians, thousands of whom are killed in a siege of the Tel al-Zaatar camp by Syrian-allied Christian militias in Beirut.
1976 October - Following Arab summit meetings in Riyadh and Cairo, a ceasefire is arranged and a predominantly Syrian Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) is established to maintain it.
Israel controls south
1978 March - In reprisal for a Palestinian attack on its territory, Israel launches a major invasion of southern Lebanon. The UN establishes the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to oversee the Israeli withdrawal, restore peace and help the government re-establish its authority.
1978 June - Israel withdraws from all but a narrow border strip, which it hands over not to UNIFIL but to a proxy mainly Christian militia - the South Lebanon Army.
1982 June - Following the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, Israeli ambassador to Britain, by a Palestinian splinter group, Israel launches a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.
1982 September - Pro-Israeli president-elect Bachir Gemayel is assassinated. Israel occupies West Beirut, where the Phalangist militia kills thousands of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps.
1982 September - Bachir's elder brother, Amine Gemayel, is elected president.
1982 September - The first contingent of a mainly US, French and Italian peacekeeping force, requested by Lebanon, arrives in Beirut.
(1983 October - A total of 241 US marines and 56 French paratroopers are killed in two bomb explosions in Beirut, claimed by two Shia groups.)
Buffer zone set up
1983 May - Israel and Lebanon sign an agreement on Israeli withdrawal, ending hostilities and establishing a security region in souther
1985 - By 6 June most Israeli troops withdraw but some remain to support the mainly Christian South Lebanon Army (SLA) led by Maj-Gen Antoine Lahoud which operates in a "security zone" in southern Lebanon.
1985 16 June - A TWA plane lands in Beirut after having been hijacked on a flight from Athens to Rome by two alleged members of Hezbollah demanding the release of Shia prisoners in Israeli jails.
1987 21 May - Lebanon abrogates the 1969 Cairo agreement with the PLO as well as officially cancelling the 17 May 1983 agreement with Israel.
1987 1 June - After Prime Minister Rashid Karami is killed when a bomb explodes in his helicopter, Selim al-Hoss becomes acting prime minister.
Two governments, one country
1988 September - When no candidate is elected to succeed him, outgoing President Amine Gemayel appoints a six-member interim military government, composed of three Christians and three Muslims, though the latter refuse to serve. Lebanon now has two governments - one mainly Muslim in West Beirut, headed by El-Hoss, the other, Christian, in East Beirut, led by the Maronite Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Gen Michel Aoun.
1989 March - Aoun declares a "war of liberation " against the Syrian presence in Lebanon.
1989 October - The National Assembly, meeting in Taif, Saudi Arabia, endorses a Charter of National Reconciliation, which reduces the authority of the president by transferring executive power to the cabinet. The National Assembly now has an equal number of Christian and Muslim members instead of the previous six to five ratio.
1989 November - President Rene Moawad is assassinated shortly after his election and succeeded by Elias Hrawi. The following day, Selim el-Hoss becomes prime minister and Gen Emile Lahoud replaces Awn as Commander-in-Chief of the Army on 28 November.
Civil war ends
1990 October - The Syrian air force attacks the Presidential Palace at Baabda and Aoun takes refuge in the French embassy. This date is regarded as the end of the civil war.
1990 December - Omar Karami heads a government of national reconciliation.
1991 - The National Assembly orders the dissolution of all militias by 30 April but Hezbollah is allowed to remain active and the South Lebanon Army (SLA) refuses to disband.
1991 May - A Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination is signed in Damascus by Lebanon and Syria and a Higher Council, co-chaired by their two presidents, is established.
1991 July - The Lebanese army defeats the PLO in Sidon so that it now confronts the Israelis and the SLA north of the so-called "security zone".
1991 August - The National Assembly grants an amnesty for all crimes committed during the civil war, 1975-1990. Aoun receives a presidential pardon and is allowed to leave for France.
1991 October - Lebanon participates in the Middle East Peace Conference launched in Madrid.
1992 February - Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, is killed when Israeli helicopter gunships attack his motorcade on a road south-east of Sidon.
By 17 June all Western hostages held by Shia groups have been released.
1992 October - After elections in August and September (the first since 1972), Nabi Berri, secretary-general of the Shia Amal organisation, becomes speaker of the National Assembly.
1992 October - Rafik Hariri, a rich businessman, born in Sidon but with Saudi Arabian nationality, becomes prime minister, heading a cabinet of technocrats.
1993 July - Israel attempts to end the threat from Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in southern Lebanon by launching "Operation Accountability", the heaviest attack since 1982.
Israel bombs Beirut
1996 April - "Operation Grapes of Wrath", in which the Israelis bomb Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon, the southern district of Beirut and the Bekaa. An Israeli attack hits a UN base at Qana and results in the death of over 100 displaced Lebanese civilians sheltering there.
US negotiates a truce and an "understanding" under which Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas agree not to attack civilians in northern Israel, and which recognises Israel's right to self-defence but also Hezbollah's right to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Lebanon and Syria do not sign the "understanding" but the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG), with members from the US, France, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, is set up to monitor the truce.
1998 April - Israel's inner cabinet votes to accept UN Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978 if Lebanon guarantees the security of Israel's northern border. Both Lebanon and Syria reject this condition.
Lahoud becomes president
1998 November - Army head Emile Lahoud is sworn in as president, succeeding President Hrawi.
1998 December - Selim el-Hoss becomes prime minister, heading a cabinet which includes no militia leaders and only two ministers from the previous administration.
1999 June - South Lebanon Army (SLA) completes its withdrawal from the Jazzin salient (north of the "security zone") occupied since 1985.
2000 March - Israeli cabinet votes for the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon by July 2000.
2000 April - Israel releases 13 Lebanese prisoners held without trial for more than 10 years but extends the detention of Hezbollah's Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dib al-Dirani.
2000 May - After the collapse of the SLA and the rapid advance of Hezbollah forces, Israel withdraws its troops from southern Lebanon, more than six weeks before its stated deadline of 7 July.
25 May - 25 May declared an annual public holiday, called "Resistance and Liberation Day".
2000 October - Rafik Hariri takes office as prime minister for a second time.
2001 March - Lebanon begins pumping water from a tributary of the River Jordan to supply a southern border village, despite opposition from Israel.
2002 January - Elie Hobeika, a key figure in the massacres of Palestinian refugees in 1982, dies in a blast shortly after disclosing that he held videotapes and documents challenging Israel's account of the massacres.
2002 September - Row with Israel over Lebanon's plan to divert water from a border river. Israel says it cannot tolerate the diversion of the Wazzani, which provides 10% of its drinking water, and threatens the use of military force.
2003 August - Car bomb in Beirut kills a member of Hezbollah. Hezbollah and a government minister blame Israel for the blast.
2004 September - UN Security Council resolution aimed at Syria demands that foreign troops leave Lebanon. Syria dismisses the move.
Parliament extends President Lahoud's term by three years. Weeks of political deadlock end with the unexpected departure of Rafik Hariri - who had at first opposed the extension - as prime minister.
2005 February - Rafik Hariri is killed by a car bomb in Beirut. The attack sparks anti-Syrian rallies and the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami's cabinet. Calls for Syria to withdraw its troops intensify.
2005 March - Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese attend pro- and anti-Syrian rallies in Beirut.
Days after his resignation, pro-Syrian former PM Omar Karami is asked by the president to form a new government.
2005 April - Mr Karami resigns as PM after failing to form a government. He is succeeded by moderate pro-Syrian MP Najib Mikati.
Syria says its forces have left Lebanon, as demanded by the UN.
2005 June - Prominent journalist Samir Qasir, a critic of Syrian influence, is killed by a car bomb.
Anti-Syrian alliance led by Saad Hariri wins control of parliament following elections. New parliament chooses Hariri ally, Fouad Siniora, as prime minister.
George Hawi, anti-Syrian former leader of Lebanese Communist Party, is killed by a car bomb.
2005 July - Lebanese PM Siniora meets Syria's President Assad; both sides agree to rebuild relations.
2005 September - Four pro-Syrian generals are charged over the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
2005 December - Prominent anti-Syrian MP and journalist Gibran Tueni is killed by a car bomb.
2006 February - Denmark's embassy in Beirut is torched during a demonstration against cartoons in a Danish paper satirising the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
2006 July - Israel launches air and sea attacks on targets in Lebanon after Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group seizes two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and the damage to civilian infrastructure wide-ranging. Thousands of people are displaced. In August Israeli ground troops thrust into southern Lebanon.
2006 August - Truce between Israel and Hezbollah comes into effect on 14 August after 34 days of fighting and the deaths of around 1,000 Lebanese - mostly civilians - and 159 Israelis, mainly soldiers. A UN peacekeeping force, expected to consist of 15,000 foreign troops, begins to deploy along the southern border.
2006 September - Lebanese government forces deploy along the Israeli border for the first time in decades.
2006 November - Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal movement resign shortly before the cabinet approves draft UN plans for a tribunal to try suspects in the killing of the former prime minister Hariri.
Leading Christian politician and government minister Pierre Gemayel is shot dead.
2006 December - Thousands of opposition demonstrators in Beirut demand the resignation of the government.
2007 January - Hezbollah-led opposition steps up pressure on the government to resign by calling general strike.
2007 March - Tent town which sprang up in central Beirut as part of the opposition sit-in to demand more say in government, remains in place 100 days after start of protest.
2007 May-September - Siege of the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared following clashes between Islamist militants and the military. More than 300 people die and 40,000 residents flee before the army gains control of the camp.
2007 May - UN Security Council votes to set up a tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of ex-premier Hariri.
2007 June - Anti-Syrian MP Walid Eido is killed in a bomb attack in Beirut.
2007 September - Anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanim is killed by a car bomb.
Parliament adjourns the session to elect a new president until 23 October, after a stay-away by the opposition pro-Syrian bloc.
2007 November - President Emile Lahoud steps down after parliament fails to elect his successor. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora says his cabinet will assume powers of presidency.
2007 December - Car bomb kills Gen Francois al-Hajj, who had been tipped to become army chief.
2008 January - Bomb blast apparently aimed at a US diplomatic vehicle in Beirut kills four.
2008 May - At least 80 people are killed in clashes between Hezbollah and pro-government factions, sparking fears of civil war.
Parliament elects army chief Michel Suleiman as president, ending six-month-long political deadlock. Suleiman reappoints Fouad Siniora as prime minister, entrusting to him task of forming new unity government.
2008 July - Political leaders reach agreement on make-up of national unity government.
Ties with Syria established
2008 July - President Suleiman meets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Paris. They agree to work towards establishing full diplomatic relations between their countries.
Israel frees five Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in July 2006. Hezbollah hails the swap as a "victory for the resistance".
2008 October - Lebanon establishes diplomatic relations with Syria for first time since both countries gained independence in 1940s.
2009 March - International court to try suspected killers of former Prime Minister Hariri opens in Hague. Expected to ask Lebanon to hand over four pro-Syrian generals held over February 2005 killing within weeks.
2009 April - Former Syrian intelligence officer Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq arrested in connection with killing of former PM Rafik Hariri.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals held since 2005 over Hariri murder freed after UN court in Hague rules that there is not enough evidence to convict them.
2009 May - US Vice-President Joe Biden visits ahead of June parliamentary elections, prompting accusations from Hezbollah that US is "meddling" in Lebanese affairs. Lebanese officials say an army colonel has been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel.
2009 June - The pro-Western March 14 alliance led by Saad Hariri wins 71 of 128 seats in parliamentary elections while the rival March 8 alliance, led by Hezbollah, secures 57. Saad Hariri is nominated as prime minister.
2009 July - The Lebanese army says it broke up a cell of 10 al-Qaeda-linked Islamists whom it accused of planning to attack troops and UN peacekeepers in the south.
2009 November - Saad Hariri succeeds in forming government of national unity, five months after his bloc won majority of seats in parliament.
2009 December - Lebanon's cabinet endorsed Hezbollah's right to keep its arsenal of weapons.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri visits Damascus for talks with President Bashar Assad, describing the talks as friendly, open and positive.
2010 April - US warns of serious repercussions for Syria if reports that it supplied Hezbollah with Scud missiles were true. PM Sa'ad Hariri earlier dismisses the accusations against Syria.
2010 July - Lebanon's most eminent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, dies.
2010 August - Lebanese and Israeli troops exchange fire along border; two Lebanese soldiers, a senior Israeli officer and a journalist are killed.
2010 October - Amid signs of heightened sectarian tension, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pays controversial visit to Lebanon that culminates in rally held at Hezbollah stronghold near Israeli border.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls on Lebanese to boycott UN tribunal into 2005 killing of former PM Rafik Hariri, saying the tribunal is in league with Israel.
2011 January - Government collapses after ministers from Hezbollah and its political allies resign.
UN prosecutor issues sealed indictment for murder of Rafik Hariri.
Najib Mikati is appointed prime-minister designate and is asked to form a new government.
2011 June - After nearly five months of tortuous wrangling and horse-trading, Mr Mikati finally succeeds in forming a cabinet. The new cabinet is dominated by Hezbollah and its allies, which are given 16 out of 30 seats.
The UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) issues four arrest warrants over the murder of Rafik Hariri. The accused are members of Hezbollah, which says it won't allow their arrest.
2012 Summer - Syrian conflict spills over into Lebanon's northern port of Tripoli in deadly clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites.
2012 October - Security chief Wissam al-Hassan is killed in a car bombing along with two other people near the police headquarters in Beirut. Opposition blames the attack on Syria, and protesters at the funeral try to storm government buildings and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Police fire warning shots and tear gas.