Lebanon came under a French mandate towards the end of the WWI, after nearly 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire. During the German occupation of France in WWII, Lebanon chose to assert its independence, becoming a state of its own in 1943. After independence, power was shared proportionately between the dominant Maronite-Christians, then the Sunnis and then the Shiite minority. Changing demographics and differing views on what political alignments the state should pursue, however, soon created deep rifts in society. The “Lebanese Civil War” that stretched from 1975 to 1990, pitting a vast number of political militias against each other and the government, also saw active participation by the states of Israel and Syria. The conflict ended when Syrian forces crushed the last remaining opposition to the Taif Agreement; signed in 1989 by Lebanese parliamentarians. The Taif Agreement allowed the Shiite Hezbollah militia to maintain its armed forces and Hezbollah thus remained in southern Lebanon, where it fought against the Israeli occupied territories. Despite the eventual withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces, divides continued to plague Lebanon well into the 21st century, particularly in 2006 with new hostilities on the Israeli-Lebanese border. In 2016 these hostilities continued, especially concerning Hezbollah. After a former Hezbollah commander was killed in Syria, a Hezbollah unit destroyed two Israeli military vehicles; Israel retaliated by shelling Lebanese villages.

In 2014, the violent crisis between Sunni militant groups and the government, supported by Hezbollah, erupted. The crisis escalated to a limited war between the government and Hezbollah forces on one side and the militant groups Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al-Nusra Front, and ISIS on the other. The conflict is affected by the ongoing Syrian civil war and Hezbollah's involvement in it, with attacks and skirmishes concentrating on the capital Beirut, Tripoli, and Beqaa governorate. Lebanese opponents and supporters of the Syrian government have been fighting in both countries, with Lebanon's Sunni Muslims mostly supporting the rebels in Syria, while Shi'ites largely supporting the Syrian president. In May, 2015, the conflict further intensified as Hezbollah and Syrian rebels fought for control of the Qalamoun area. However, the conflict in 2016 de-escalated slightly, although the country continued to be impacted by the war in Syria, especially with Hezbollah’s continued support of the Assad regime. The Lebanese military continued to target suspected Sunni militants, while Hezbollah and al-Nusra (now renamed al-Sham) also clashed frequently. Violence related to the Syrian war was focused on the border areas with Syria, where Sunni militants clashed with IS over control. The Lebanese military shelled both Sunni and IS militants in the area.

Peace attempts

The Lebanese Civil War ended through a mixture of political reconciliation, reform and sheer force. Lebanese parliamentarians undertook negotiations at an Arab-brokered conference at Saudi Arabia in 1989 and although the warring parties did not take part in the negotiations, the Taif agreement involved parliamentarians who represented groups that had been involved in the conflict during its earlier years. The civil war was technically ended however, by force rather than negotiations; through the military defeat of the last representative against the Taif agreement - the Maronite Christian head of the army.

Recent peace attempts have been limited, and the current failure of Lebanon’s parliament to elect a new president after a period of almost a year has raised concerns for democracy in the country. The UN has supported Lebanon’s political transformation after the withdrawal of Syrian forces but has labelled the recent political stalemate as a “disappointment at best and irresponsible at worst”. The UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), has been active since 1978, changing its mandate several times as circumstances on the ground change. Its current mandate is based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter, as well as monitoring the 225km coastline to prevent illicit arms trading. It currently employs 11,389 personnel, with an annual budget of $488m.

One of the more recent peace attempts is the current “Middle East Initiative”, a focused advocacy effort of leaders from both the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As part of this process, Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim recently met with a dozen church leaders, denouncing the actions of radical groups. The United States Institute of Peace is also working in Lebanon is to develop proposals, ideas and policy recommendations, while humanitarian efforts (such as UNICEF and UNHCR) are attempting to assist with more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The total cost of the Syrian Civil War to Lebanon is over $5bn.

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