As Israel begins its phased withdrawal from southern Lebanon, local religious and political forces whose feuds had been largely suspended under the occupation have resumed their deadly struggle for power. Revenge is already being taken against both Lebanese and Palestinians suspected of collaboration with Israel, while in the coastal city of Sidon this week a major Sunni Muslim leader became one of many victims of a car-bomb attack. All signs are that the Lebanese, soon to be deprived of a foreign occupier to unite against, are once more turning on themselves.
There is a great and plausible fear in Lebanon that the civil war that in the 1970s claimed 100,000 lives and has never really subsided could erupt again in full fury. Sidon is one of the places where the first sparks of that conflict were struck a decade ago in a dispute between Christians and Muslims over control of the local fishing industry. The population of the Sidon area is an antagonistic mixture of Sunnis, Shia Muslims and Christians. As the restraining hand of Israel is lifted, the weapons that these groups have hidden away and the old hatreds that they have never buried are starting to reemerge.