Can Lebanon douse political fires?
Fighting in Tripoli is indicative of rising Sunni-Shiite tensions as the formation of a new government hits an impasse. Religious leaders called for calm Wednesday.
(Page 2 of 2)
"They were very fierce battles. I have never seen anything like it. These people don't care about civilians and children; they shot at anything," says Abdel-Karim Mahfouz, a construction worker in Jabal Mohsen.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Army troops fanned out in the two districts Monday night to separate the feuding factions. Armored personnel carriers with soldiers sitting on top clattered through the streets Wednesday.
Dozens of young men, some clutching walkie-talkies, huddled in groups along the main road through Jabal Mohsen, sipping tiny plastic cups of coffee and talking quietly.
They blame the outbreak of fighting on the residents of Tebbaneh, saying that militant Salafi clerics had been stirring up Sunni extremists with fiery anti-Shiite sermons. Foreign jihadi militants have infiltrated Tebbaneh and are being armed and paid by Saudi officials and leaders of the Future Movement, they claim, echoing a prevalent rumor in Lebanon.
"We are besieged today. If we leave Jabal Mohsen, the Sunnis beat us and steal our cars," says a man who would only identify himself as "Ali from the Jabal." "The Future Movement ...burned 15 of our houses last night. They don't want peace."
Rifaat Eid, the head of the opposition-allied Democratic Labor Party and a prominent Alawite, says that the community is placing its faith in the Army to impose order.
"If the Lebanese Army hits back at troublemakers then we will have calm," he says from his office in Jabal Mohsen. On his desk lies a pile of posters with the portraits and names of four members of Mr. Eid's party who died in the clashes this week. On a wall behind him is a picture of Hafez al-Assad, the former president of Syria and the father of Bashar al-Assad, the current head of state. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect that also dominates the Syrian regime. Their coreligionists in Lebanon have long maintained close political ties to Syria.
"We [Alawites] are a minority and no minority wants to make problems with the majority [Sunnis]," he says. "But we have to defend our families, wives, children. Anyone coming to kill me, I will drink his blood."
Down the hill in Tebbaneh, the rubbish-strewn streets are almost deserted except for a few young men carrying walkie-talkies. Lebanese soldiers order several youths to dismantle a barricade of oil drums and sandbags. Above it flies a black flag bearing a quote from the Koran.
Here, the accusations and strident claims of residents are an echo of those heard in Jabal Mohsen: Iranians are fighting alongside the Alawites, Hezbollah is arming them, residents of Tebbaneh are beaten and robbed if they leave their neighborhood, Jabal Mohsen started the fighting and will not stop.
"The first one we killed in the fighting was a Shiite Iranian," says Mustafa Abbas, a fruit and vegetable salesman. "They only fought hard because the Iranians were with them."
Few here on either side believe that the fighting is over. "We are poor people here in Tebbaneh, but we work and buy weapons, work and buy weapons. We have to defend ourselves," says Mohammed Mahmoud, a resident. "But in the end, it will be we poor people who suffer most of all."