The long-standing ethnic tensions in Lebanon that were stirred by the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the 2006 Israel – Hizbullah conflict, came to a head in 2008 with a series of violent confrontations between formal and ad hoc militias and the Lebanese military. A core issue was how different ethnic groups would be represented in Lebanon's confessional system of government, which attempts to strike a balance in a country that is essentially populated entirely by minorities. Lebanon is 60 per cent Muslim (Sunnis, Shia, and Druze and Allawi, who only sometimes identify as Muslim) and 40 per cent Christian (divided again into a huge number of sects).

Approximately 400,000 Palestinians, mostly Sunni, live in Lebanon, many without identity papers. About half live in 12 UNRWA camps. They continue to face severe discrimination, are barred from 70 professional vocations and cannot own property or travel freely. UNRWA usually allows non-ID holding children to attend school, but they cannot register for examinations and so many drop out. In March 2008, UN news agency IRIN quoted UNRWA representative Hoda al-Turk as saying that new identification papers were 'imminent'. It is hoped that this will prevent arbitrary arrests and ensure access to school and medical facilities.

Latent conflict between different Lebanese factions has lasted for years. In the first half of 2008, a socio-economic alliance composed mostly of southern Shia with loyalties to Hizbullah, and Maronite Christians, shut down the government because they felt under-represented. A shaky political compromise was eventually reached but there were reports in the aftermath of seriously increased tensions along Sunni – Shia lines. The fear of large-scale conflict between Sunni and Shia (as was recently seen in Iraq) did not materialize, but the situation remains tense.

In February 2008 the Ministry of Interior announced that Lebanese citizens would be able to remove their religion from Civil Registry Records. The international community commended the move as a small step towards ameliorating Lebanon's sectarian divisions.

Violence and conflict have disproportionately affected the most marginalized groups. In 2007 conflict between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army led to the destruction of Nahr al-Bared camp and the pace of reconstruction continues to be slow. More than a year after the fighting and the displacement of 30,000 residents, only a small number of families have been able to return.

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