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Published: Monday, 5/21/2012

New casualty

Fighting between religious sects in Syria has spilled into Lebanon, and the Beirut government has deployed troops to try to contain it. The violent civil illness that afflicts Syria should not be allowed to re-infect its neighbor.

Syria borders Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, as well as Lebanon. In the Israeli border zone, the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967, remains a contested issue. Across the Turkish border, thousands of Syrian refugees have streamed into camps.

Until now, the fighting among Syrian factions had not spread into Lebanon. Syria’s majority Sunni Muslims and the minority ruling Alawites exist and compete in Lebanon as well.

Sunnis and Alawites have fought before in Lebanon. But even during the civil war from 1975 to 1990, conflict between them was not one of the main events of the Lebanese struggle, although Islamist Sunni militias were always a factor.

Now there are reports of fighting between Sunnis and Alawites in northern Lebanon, only 45 miles from Beirut, the capital. The Lebanese government has sent troop reinforcements to try to end the fighting and restore order.

But the stubborn Syrian problem has spread across one of its borders. The introduction of any fighting with a religious basis is dangerous in Lebanon: Its structure as a state depends on a tightly balanced division of power among Maronite Catholics, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druze, and other Christian and Muslim sects.

Hezbollah, an armed Shiite group that is supported by both Iran and Syria, plays a strong role in Lebanon. And fighting anywhere in Lebanon is bound to interrupt the process of reconstruction that has continued since the end of the civil war. The latest developments threaten to aggravate all of these problems.

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