Lebanon Marks Independence Day Amid Unprecedented Challengesإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Lebanon celebrated Independence Day on Thursday with several challenges facing the country, including fears that conflict in neighboring Syria would further heighten deep rivalries, and efforts to keep the southern border with Israel calm despite an Israeli offensive on Gaza that ended with a ceasefire on Wednesday.
The country marked 69 years of independence with an official ceremony staged in downtown Beirut.
Streets leading to the area were cordoned off for the ceremony which was attended by President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Miqati, diplomats and other dignitaries.
March 14 alliance officials, including al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc leader Fouad Saniora and Phalange party chief Amin Gemayel, attended the military parade that was held at Shafiq Wazzan Avenue despite a decision by the opposition to boycott all parliamentary activity and government work over the Oct. 19 assassination of Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch chief Wissam al-Hasan.
The March 14 opposition blamed the government for al-Hasan's killing in a car bomb explosion in Beirut's Ashrafiyeh district and pointed its finger at Syria.
Lebanon is divided between pro and anti-Syrian regime factions, a legacy of the nearly three decades when Damascus all but ruled Lebanon, until 2005. The government is led by the March 8 alliance, in which Syrian President Bashar Assad's ally, Hizbullah, is a major component.
During the Independence Day parade on Thursday, hundreds of red, white and green balloons were launched skywards after military helicopters overflew marching soldiers.
Suleiman, Berri and Miqati later headed to Baabda palace where they received well-wishers.
Lebanese Independence Day commemorates the country's liberation in 1943 after 23 years of governance by French Mandate that succeeded Ottoman rule.
But Lebanon still suffers from sectarian tension and deep rivalries between the different factions over their foreign affiliations. Several Beirut neighborhoods and the northern city of Tripoli have seen repeated clashes between the parties backing the Assad regime and those supporting the revolution against him.
Two rockets that were fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel on Wednesday also showed how the country is vulnerable to conflicts outside its borders.
While the rockets fell short and landed near the border with Israel, the attack added another challenge to the Hizbullah-led government that prefers to stay firmly on the sidelines of the Israel-Gaza conflict that erupted on Nov. 14 when when Israel killed a senior Hamas field commander.
A ceasefire took hold Thursday in and around Gaza after a week of cross-border violence.