Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Caught in the act

The bombing in Beirut preceding the Paris events appears aimed to sow sectarian strife in Lebanon. But the country’s leaders and the people have refused the bait, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi from Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the world grapples with the horrendous attack in Paris, the Lebanese seem to have won a round against Islamic State (IS), the terror group now seeking to assert its global reach.

On Thursday, 12 November, two explosions rocked the Burj Al-Barajneh section of Beirut’s Shia southern suburb, leaving 43 dead and 239 wounded, according to preliminary reports.

The bombings were clearly designed to drive a wedge between Shias and Sunnis, as well as between Lebanese and refugees from Syria and Palestine, in a country that is already teetering on the edge of political turmoil.

But the Lebanese reacted with the sang froid they’ve proved capable of summoning at points of national peril. Instead of blaming the Palestinians and Syrians in the nearby refugee camp of Burj Al-Barajneh, Hezbollah told its followers to avoid a “backlash”.

The Lebanese interior minister, who is a Sunni and a key figure in Future Current, widely regarded as the country’s main adversary of Hezbollah, acted swiftly to apprehend the surviving members of the gang that carried out the attack, considered to be the third most deadly blast in the country since the end of the civil war.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said that the perpetrators had also planned to bomb the Rasul Azam Hospital, a medical facility affiliated with Hezbollah in the southern suburb.

IS claimed that the perpetrators came from Burj Al-Barajneh, a point that is meant to turn Hezbollah against the heavily populated refugee camp, inhabited mostly by Palestinian refugees. The IS claim proved false, however, as police later discovered.

Learning of the IS claim, the Hamas Movement hastened to inform Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah that the two men that IS claimed had carried out the attack were killed in Syria two years ago. No Palestinian was involved in the attacks, according to police sources.

Both Berri and Nasrallah beseeched the Shia community to remain calm. Nasrallah told his supporters in no uncertain terms to refrain from blaming Syrian or Palestinian refugees for the atrocity.

The Hezbollah chief also advised all Syrian refugees to keep an eye open for suspicious individuals and to report them to the police.

Within 48 hours, the Lebanese security services uncovered a group it said had planned the attack. In total, 11 suspects were arrested, all Syrians and Lebanese.

Revealing the preliminary finding of the investigation, Machnouk said that five suicide bombers were hired for the job. One of them, a Lebanese, got caught while trying to enter the country from Syria through the Hermel district in the Beqaa Valley.

“The detained include seven Syrians and two Lebanese, one of them a [designated] suicide bomber and the other a trafficker who smuggled them across the borders from Syria,” the minister told reporters.

The explosions were the first in more than a year to target a Hezbollah-controlled area in Lebanon.

According to Machnouk, the network members received their instructions from a man named Abu Walid who resides in Al-Raqqa, considered to be the capital of IS in Syria.

Aware of how close Lebanon may be approaching a point of sectarian confrontation, Nasrallah called for dialogue among the country’s adversaries to calm the political scene. Lebanon has been without a president since mid-2014, and its parliament no longer meets on a regular basis.

Machnouk praised Nasrallah’s call for dialogue, noting that Future Current will table several points for discussion.

“We hope that this painful incident will [encourage] all political powers to seek stability and protect the country and the people from the criminals,” Machnouk said.

It is an uphill struggle, but if there is anything the Lebanese are good at it is pulling themselves away from the edge of the precipice. With a divided government, a stalled presidential nomination process and a parliament that rarely meets, Lebanon suffers from an unprecedented political stalemate.

Aside from handling its own political issues, Lebanon has to cope with nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees and 1.5 million Syrian refugees, while trying to keep its extensive borders with Syria safe from infiltrations by IS and Al-Nusra Front combatants.

Not a perfect situation, but it didn’t stop its security services from apprehending suspects in a major bombing within two days of the incident. If Lebanon can do it, then it can be done elsewhere.

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