The Maronite Church; gunbattles break out in Beirut
After massacres of Christians by Druze and Muslims under the Ottoman Empire, and then massive foreign pressure from Europe (back when they still actually liked Christians) Greater Lebanon was established as a special region to ensure the security of Christians (mostly Maronites). But as time has passed the Muslim population has grown and the Christian population has (relatively) shrunk. There was a bloody and lengthy civil war from 1975-90 between the Christians and the Sunnis.
Not it looks like war has started between the Sunnis and the Shias. My understanding is that the Christian community has supporters for both sides, though I don't see why anyone would support Nasrallah and Hizbullah, but this is a strange part of the world.
The Maronite Church is quite interesting in itself. In full communion with Rome, it is not a Uniate church. Rather it dates back to very early (5th C.?) and became cut off from the outside world as Christians moved to mountainous, protected regions to defend themselves from Muslims and Druze. When contact was reestablished with Roman Catholic clergy it was found that no schism had separated the two churches, but rather that they had simply lost touch with each other. (The graphic above should give you an idea of what I'm talking about.)
But here is the most recent bad news from CNN:
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Gunfire broke out in downtown Beirut on Thursday after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said recent government actions amount to "a declaration of open war."
There are reports of open street battles in at least one neighborhood. Video showed people throwing stones at each other, as Lebanese soldiers used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
The violence is limited to Beirut's Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods and has continued into the evening hours.
Shortly after Nasrallah's speech, CNN's Cal Perry reported from Sodeco Square in downtown Beirut during an intense gun battle.
"Just in the past few minutes ... things have gotten a lot worse," he said, taking cover with the Lebanese army. He said government forces have not reacted to the violence.
The Lebanese army, which is charged with trying to keep peace in the capital, is in a precarious position, Perry explained.
"When you're talking about this much gunfire, when you're talking about [rocket-propelled grenades] fire, it's absolutely ludicrous to think that the army will put themselves between these two factions," he said.
Video of the scene showed empty streets and shuttered stores. There were no reports of violence in Beirut's Christian neighborhoods. Witnesses and journalists described a long line of cars on the main road leading out of Beirut after the violence broke out.
In his televised speech, Nasrallah offered harsh words for the government, blaming it for declaring war by banning Hezbollah's telecommunications system.
"We believe the war has started, and we believe that we have the right to defend ourselves," the Hezbollah leader said. "We will cut the hand that will reach out to the weapons of the resistance, no matter if it comes from the inside or the outside." [...]