One month ago I came to Beirut the capital of Lebanon. Here and all over the country, where ever you go, you constantly meet Syrian refugees as well as Iraqis.
Lebanon a country with a population of only 4 and a half million native citizens has taken in about 1.2 Million Syrian refugees and the number is growing still. Already since the beginning of the second Gulf War countless Iraqi refugees have entered the country fleeing violence, chaos and destruction at home. While many of these Iraqi refugees have sought and found asylum in Western countries, there are still an estimated 100,000 Iraqi refugees inside Lebanon, most of them are unregistered and without legal rights.
These enormous numbers of refugees have had a large impact on Lebanese economic conditions. Rents for working class housing have sky-rocketed, since the refugees now, according to some Lebanese friends, rent all the available spaces, with six or more people occupying a single room paying several times the rent that has been asked of Lebanese tenants before the Syrian civil war. At the same time wages have fallen drastically, since the refugees are ready to work for far lower pay.
This, however, is not the only reason why there are also more and more hostile feelings against the refugees in this country. Sunni refugees are often suspected by both Christian and Shiite Lebanese of sympathizing with or even supporting the radical Islamists, like ISIS which is called the Da’esh here or the Al Nusra front or other Al Qaeda affiliated groups.
Public anger has then increased enormously after the Da’esh had, in a cross-border raid, taken over the Lebanese village of Arsal, which also houses a large camp for Syrian refugees and the local army station. 29 soldiers and policemen were captured, some of the Sunni captives were released, while those of other sects and religions are still kept as hostages.
Two of the captives so far have been murdered by beheading. Although the first soldier murdered was a Sunni man, there are still great fears of the public outrage that the murders might lead to sectarian violence.
But this is exactly what nobody wants here in Lebanon the long decades of civil war are still a recent and horrifying memory. And therefore great efforts are made both by individuals as well as by political parties and groups to diffuse sectarian distrust and fear which might lead to hatred and violence.
An example of these strenuous efforts are those of the parents of the murdered soldiers as reported about the family of Abbas Medlej, a Shiite family:
The family of the Lebanese soldier who was executed by ISIS Saturday called for unity against takfiri groups, saying citizens need to support the state and the Army, not slip into civil strife.
“Our choice remains as is, Lebanon a country of coexistence for all its components,” said the statement by the family of Abbas Medlej Saturday night, appealing for calm. “The terrorist act that killed our son Abbas is a crime against all Lebanese; Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze.”
The Medlej family called for Lebanese to prevent “takfiris from penetrating into our national fabric,” and thus stop them from achieving their goal of division among the Lebanese…
Similarly the family of the other executed soldier, Ali Al-Sayed, a Sunni, as reported by Lebanese News :
In a bid to challenge rising sectarian tensions, the families of the two Lebanese soldiers executed by ISIS joined together in prayer Friday.
The family of Ali Al-Sayed traveled from north Lebanon to the Al-Ansar, near Baalbek, to offer condolences to the relatives of Abbas Medlej.
Medlej and Sayed were both kidnapped by ISIS during the Arsal clashes last month and were later beheaded by the fundamentalist group.
The two families, one Sunni and one Shiite, gathered for a joint prayer at the village’s mosque led by the Baalbek and Hermal Mufti Sheikh Bakr al-Rifai, who stressed on the importance of “Muslim unity and coexistence.”
And then there are the statements of religious Hezbollah leaders like the Head of Hezbollah’s religious committee, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, who, along with Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and a delegation from Hezbollah, visited the Baalbek town of Al-Ansar to offer condolences to the relatives of Lebanese Armed Forces soldier Abbas Medlej:
Sheikh Yazbek told LBCI that martyrs Ali Al-Sayyed and Abbas Medlej represent the entire Lebanese nation, stressing that Lebanese authorities should exert more efforts to face terrorism.
Sheikh Yazbel also stated that terrorism does not differentiate between Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians, urging Lebanese citizens to unite their efforts in order to face this threat.
Hezbollah, as both a political party and a Shiite militia, has before been considered not a friend but competition to the Lebanese army. But in spite of everything the Lebanese people of all creeds and political sides try to do, the country isn’t safe.
There are forces at work, which do not originate in Lebanon, forces which do their utmost to inflame tensions and in doing so to create conditions for a new civil war.
The Lebanese daily The Daily Star writes in its English edition on September 25:
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: There are reports that ISIS is looking to create trouble and instability via the sleeper cells it is believed to have implanted across the country.
Lebanese security sources said that ISIS was trying to create strife in areas in Lebanon’s north, south and the Bekaa Valley in order to undermine the country’s stability.
The starting point of this plan was the five-day clashes in Arsal, which have since been followed by sporadic incidents in north Lebanon such as gunmen opening fire on a Lebanese Army position Tuesday, leading to the death of soldier Mohammad Khaled al-Hussein…
As Islamist militants fighting in Syria search for different ways to get hold of supplies needed in the ongoing war there, Lebanese political factions have been forced to mobilize to keep pace with the fast-moving developments.
For the first time in a long time, the various Lebanese security bodies have decided to join efforts in their fight against terrorism.
This has been made all the more urgent since senior security sources revealed that ISIS has been intensifying its efforts to create pockets of support across the country…
The security authorities have warned that ISIS and the Lebanese branches of the Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades have united in order to establish a haven in the border area stretching from the north through the Bekaa Valley to the Shebaa farms in the south.
According to reports, if ISIS is to conduct attacks in these areas, they will be led by a figure known as Sheikh Abu Hasan al-Ramlawi.
Ramlawi – who goes by a nom du guerre – is a Palestinian who holds a Jordanian passport. Security forces marked him as an important figure because he used to mobilize Islamists in Deraa in southern Syria, before moving to an area closer to Lebanon.
Ramlawi is believed to have moved toward the Syrian part of the Golan Heights and Shebaa until he reached the area’s Lebanese Sunni villages, where he has reportedly been working on forming armed groups.
As a result of the sensitive location of this area, Hezbollah is believed to be monitoring the situation closely.
There are fears that Israel might try to take advantage of these developments to target Hezbollah. Some even believe that Ramlawi may have been coordinating with Israeli secret service agency Mossad in order to manipulate events in Syria.
Such reports pushed Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to give a speech Tuesday emphasizing the party’s position on the war against terrorism, while rejecting Lebanon’s participation in an international anti- ISIS coalition. Nasrallah also called on the Lebanese government to negotiate from a position of strength with the Islamist militants from ISIS and Nusra Front who are holding at least 21 soldiers and policemen…
But even the travesty of the kidnappings seems to pale in comparison to dramatic developments predicted to be on the horizon.
In a statement, Sheikh Sirajuddine Zureiqat, a spokesman of Al-Qaeda-affiliated group the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, said he would be coming to Beirut soon. This statement was dismissed by Nasrallah in his speech.
Zureiqat is believed to now be with the Lebanese captives, which if true would be a dangerous indicator that the Nusra Front, ISIS and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are starting to unify within Lebanon.
The threat posed by ISIS’ alleged sleeper cells is being taken sufficiently seriously that it prompted Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt to make a tour around Wadi al-Taym – a predominantly Druze area very close to the Syrian border – over the weekend.
The move comes as the Druze community is reporting feeling directly threatened by these extremists groups. As the area that the groups are believed to be interested in contains large numbers of Druze, it is natural to fear that the Druze would be displaced were the groups to take over. Therefore the targeting of the Druze in Shebaa is being prepared for.
The Lebanese government also senses the danger that the country is in, and is fully aware of the complications ahead. One senior political source compared the expected turmoil to the aftermath of Israel’s invasion in the summer of 1982.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam wants to get through the crisis with as little fallout as possible, and he is currently in New York working on ensuring Lebanon has a safety net amid the regional turmoil.
From Syrians, both Sunni Muslim and Christian, that I met here in Beirut and during my one-week stay in Syria I have heard nearly the same words again and again in helpless sighs: “We are like pawns, who are used in a game by outside powers who play with us. But we do the suffering and dying.”
The Lebanese are very close to feeling the same helplessness, being tossed around by ruthless forces in their power games, forces which have no regard for the livelihood, the safety, the dignity and the lives of most human beings, forces who are ready to go over mountains of dead bodies to reach their aims.