After my visit to Syria (see Blog) I made my way through the north end of Lebanon and down to Beirut. It didn't take long to figure out that everyone here seemed to be a bit nervous and the security was high.
In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon lasting until 1990, devastating the country's economy, and resulting in the massive loss of human life. During this time, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel. Lebanon was twice invaded and occupied by the Israel Defense Forces and the PLO was expelled. Israel remained in control of Southern Lebanon until 2000, when there was a general decision to withdraw due to continuous guerrilla attacks executed by Hezbollah militants. The UN determined that the withdrawal of Israeli troops beyond the blue line was in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, although a border region called the Shebaa Farms is still disputed.
On February 14, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb explosion near the Saint George Bay in Beirut. The Lebanese accused Syria of the attack due to its extensive military and intelligence presence in Lebanon. Syrian officials claimed that the assassination may have been executed by the American CIA or the Israeli Mossad in an attempt to destabilize the country. This incident triggered a series of demonstrations, known as Cedar Revolution, demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the establishment of an international commission to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The UN Security Council launched an investigation and published the findings in the Mehlis Report (see Wikipedia Article) on October 20, 2005. It found that high-ranking members of the Syrian and Lebanese governments were involved in the assassination.
Eventually, and under pressure from the international community, Syria began withdrawing its 15,000-strong army troops from Lebanon. The Hariri assassination marked the beginning of a series of assassination attempts that led to the loss of many prominent Lebanese figures. On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and that led to a conflict, known in Lebanon as July War, that lasted until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire went into effect on 14 August 2006.
In May of 2007 Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Armed Forces began a series of attacks and bombings in and near Beirut. The Islamist Fatah al-Islam group is alleged to have links with al-Qaeda and Lebanese government officials also believe it has ties to Syrian intelligence. There have been more than a dozen mysterious assassinations of outspoken critics of the strong role that Syria plays inside Lebanon. To make things worse, a few weeks before I arrived there was a recent deadlock in the Presidential elections. The country was currently under military lockdown.
I spent much of my time in Lebanon going through checkpoints and border patrols but I did have a chance to visit some of the local attractions and get know to some locals. Many Lebanese are opposed to both of the Presidential candidates, saying that they were puppets of Syria and the United States.
For the most part Lebanon is very westernized and modern. Most people speak English and at times I forgot where I was. It's in a beautiful part of the Middle East running along the Mediterranean Coast filled with mountains and ski resorts.
After Lebanon I tried going back through the Syrian border and into Jordan but was denied entry and ended up taking a flight into Jordan (see Jordan Blog).