In Lebanon's wild east, Hezbollah finds itself on left foot
After supporting an Army crackdown against lawlessness in the Bekaa Valley, the Shiite organization faces a backlash from angry clan members ahead of June elections.
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According to a source familiar with the incident, Mughniyah was hunting with friends near Chaat village in the Bekaa when members of the Zeaiter clan snatched his vehicle, apparently unimpressed that its owner was the son of the legendary Mughniyah.Skip to next paragraph
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In response, Hezbollah quietly gave a green light to the Army to mount a crackdown on the gangs of car thieves. But the army's round-up expanded to include drug dealers and hashish farmers, infuriating the clans, some of whom are vowing to vote against Hezbollah in the upcoming election.
Army hits the road to Bekaa
On Monday, four soldiers were killed and 11 wounded near the Bekaa town of Rayak in an ambush suspected to have been carried out by members of the Jaafar clan. The attack was revenge for the killing last month of Ali Abbas Jaafar, a drug dealer who had 172 outstanding arrest warrants. Lebanese soldiers shot him in his car on a dirt track outside Dar al-Wasaa.
Speaking Monday after the ambush against the soldiers, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said that the Army was a "red line" and vowed "to strike with an iron fist" against the perpetrators.
The next day, the highway leading from Beirut to the Bekaa was clogged with tank transporters carrying camouflaged armored personnel carriers and trucks filled with red-bereted soldiers. Troops set up numerous checkpoints on the roads leading to Dar al-Wasaa, while helicopters clattered high above, keeping well out of the range of rocket-propelled grenades carried by the fugitives.
Survivors of Army attack tell their story
The village was eerily quiet in the bright morning sunshine. The men of Dar al-Wasaa had fled ahead of the approaching soldiers, grabbing their weapons and disappearing into the rugged mountains, the traditional refuge for the clans.
The Lebanese army claimed that Ali Abbas Jaafar had failed to stop at a checkpoint, forcing the soldiers to open fire at his vehicle. Ali Abbas and another member of the Jaafar family were killed.
But those in the vehicle who survived offer a different version, insisting that the troops ambushed Ali Abbas and opened fire without warning.
"We didn't see the soldiers or their vehicles. All we saw were bullets coming from the trees, hitting the car and us," says Salwa Jaafar, who had hitched a ride in Ali Abbas' car along with her four children. She was wounded in the arm and in one lung. Her teenage son, Ahmad, was hit in the back.
Salwa claimed that the soldiers beat them despite their wounds and it took the intervention of armed members of the Jaafar clan before they were allowed to go to hospital for treatment.
The incident has inflamed the Jaafars, arousing fierce instincts of revenge and tribal solidarity.
"Yes, the Jaafars do kill, but only those that kill us," says a close female relative of Salwa, her voice rising with anger. "The soldiers who were killed deserve to be killed. I support the boys that did this. Understand this: If they kill one of us, we kill one of them. If I know where the men are who killed the soldiers I would go and kiss their feet for what they have done."