Syria's war is testing the limits of tolerance in neighboring Lebanon

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Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills in for Marco Werman. This is "The World". We're going to start the new year in Beirut, Lebanon. The explosive conflicts and political cross-currents there are not easy to untangle or simple to grasp, but Lebanon will likely be pivotal in 2014. The war in neighboring Syria is growing more intense as is the spillover into Lebanon. That was apparent this week for the BBC's State Department correspondent Kim Ghattas. She was back home in Beirut for the holidays and was asked to cover the news of the car bomb that killed a moderate opposition leader and family friend. Kim was born and raised in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and then covered the region for many years before leaving for her post in Washington. Kim Ghattas: It was as though I'd never left, as though the last six years of my life had never happened. I was still covering the assassination of bright, intellectual, moderate, liberal people targeted for their probably political views, depriving the country of its brightest and best people, and being killed in a very violent way in the middle of the city with a car bomb. And these are people, it's a small country, so this is somebody I knew, this was somebody who was friends with a lot of my friends. And the question that keeps coming back to us every time these things happen is "When will it ever end?" because it just keeps happening. Hills: You're talking of course of the car bombing and killing of Mohamad Chatah, Lebanon's former Finance Minister. He's also an opposition figure and I know you knew him. Tell us who he was. Ghattas: Mr. Chatah was very much the brain of the Sunni opposition at the moment. He was an adviser to Saad Hariri. Both Saad Hariri and Mr. Chatah were very much critics of Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, and minutes before Mr. Chatah was killed, he sent out a Tweet that was as well critical of Hezbollah and Syria. Hills: Now, you yourself lived through a lot of of Syrian occupation of Lebanon. You were thirteen years old in 1990 when Hafez al-Assad's army marched into Lebanon. Hafez al-Assad, of course, is the father of Syria's current leader, Bashar. If you can think back to that moment and how you thought about how it all worked, how has your world view changed? Ghattas: Well, I was a young teenager at the time and your world view then is very much shaped by the little that you see. But my world was very limited by the environment that we were living in. We were in a war. We were spending a lot of time in shelters. We lived under shelling. I couldn't go to school sometimes because of snipers. Then to try to explain the chaos around you, you simplify things to the very basics. There must be someone in charge because I'm not in control of the chaos around me. So who could it be? Well, the world powers, they are the ones who are pulling the strings, and making it happen and divvying up the region the way they want to. Of course as an adult, you understand that's not exactly how it works, but it is still the perspective that a lot of people hold onto in this region. I talk to people in Beirut constantly, or friends from Syria who tell me "Oh if the US wanted the war in Syria to end it would be over tomorrow.'" And it is quite eerie for me to hear that because it's exactly what my father used to say when I was growing up in Beirut during the civil war - "If America wants the war to be over, the conflict would end tomorrow", but the geo-politics of it are much more complex. But I do also believe that it's not necessarily nefarious. Hills: Lebanon has always been put upon by one country or another. It's Syria, it's France, it's Iran, it's Saudi Arabia. There's all these countries that are always wielding influence in Lebanon. Why is that? Ghattas: It's a small country that sits at the nexus of a lot of conflicting interests and influences. We are very much a gateway to the east and the west, we're neighbors of Israel and Syria, we are a country with a very diverse sectarian make-up, we have Shiites and Sunnis and Christians and Druze and a very small tiny remaining Jewish community. It is often lived as a conflict, but it is also a richness because that is what makes Lebanon so intriguing and so attaching as well. We love to hate Lebanon, and we hate to love it, and that's who we are Hills: Kim Ghattas is the BBC's State Department correspondent. She's been speaking to us from her hometown, Beirut. She's also the author of "The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power". Thanks so much, Kim. Ghattas: Thank you. Bye.