News / Middle East

Sectarian Splits Widen in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

People gather near a burning car at the site of an explosion in the Shi'ite town of Hermel, Jan. 16, 2014.
People gather near a burning car at the site of an explosion in the Shi'ite town of Hermel, Jan. 16, 2014.
TEXT SIZE - +
— Deadly suicide bombings in Beirut and rocket attacks on towns along the border with Syria – all tied to the raging civil war in Syria --  are leading many Lebanese to feel they now have no choice but to identify more closely with their sectarian groups,  and in many cases embrace hardliners among their co-religionists, warn beleaguered moderate politicians and analysts. 
 
The hardening of sectarian feeling is on clear display in the northern Bekaa Valley hugging the border with Syria. Shia Muslims in the town of Hermel, which saw its first suicide bomb ever two weeks ago and was struck on January 25 by four Grad rockets fired by a jihadist group fighting in Syria, blame Sunni neighbors for the uptick in violence as much as they point fingers at foreign fighters battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an uprising increasingly influenced by Sunni extremists.
 
They fear visiting the nearby hardscrabble mainly Sunni town of Arsal just 15 minutes away. Arsal’s population has more than doubled swollen by at least 40,000 Syrian refugees as well as Syrian rebel fighters, who rest up in the town and are treated for wounds sustained in fighting in the adjacent Qalamoun region where Syrian government forces have been pressing an offensive.
 
Shiite opinion is hardening and those who doubted the wisdom of the involvement of Hizbullah Lebanon’s militant Shia movement, in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad, an adherent of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, are now revising their criticism and falling in line.
 
“Ideas have altered since Hezbollah first started fighting in Syria,” says 50-year-old Mohammed Alaw, a high school teacher, who is aligned with no party.  There is deep anger in Hermel over the January 16 suicide bomb that killed five and wounded 40.
 
When young Lebanese Shiite fighters started to return in body bags in the summer during a hard-fought battle to help Syrian government forces retake the town of Qusair from rebels, some townspeople questioned why Hezbollah was fighting in Syria, arguing the real enemy is Israel. Hermel was heavily bombed by Israeli warplanes during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah because it was an important junction in an arms-supply route for Shiite militiamen battling Israel’s soldiers further south in Lebanon. 

Mohammed Alaw says many of his students are now flocking to Syria - either as fighters or in support roles.
 
“Now I see Shiites who condemned or did not agree with Hezbollah going into Syria have changed their minds.” They are doing so, he says, because they now think Hezbollah leaders were right when they argued that radical Sunni Muslims, or takfiris [apostates] as they call them, will come for Lebanese Shiites once al-Assad had been ousted.
 
He says his students are doing so because they fear Shiite Islam and their families’ safety is threatened.
 
In Arsal, which is perched on the the mountainous slopes above low-lying Hermel, there is equal suspicion. Before the Syrian civil war erupted the towns had close ties and many Sunnis worked in the richer Hermel but the employment and social connections between the two have unraveled. Hezbollah officials say they have very little contact with Sunni leaders in Arsal now.
 
Abed Hassan, a 24-year-old marble quarryman who has been helping refugees in bedraggled and windswept camps on wasteland when he can, says he would be in danger if he set foot in Hermel.
 
“Hezbollah fighters have been mounting informal checkpoints and young Sunnis risk being seized if we travel beyond Arsal,” he says. Hezbollah officials deny they mount checkpoints, saying they leave it to the army to protect Hermel, but plainclothes Hezbollah fighters were scrutinizing cars on a road leading from Arsal, hoping, they say, to prevent any more suicide bombers reaching the town.
 
Sectarian communities across Lebanon share a sense of being besieged. But that is all they share – aside from fear and the weaving of conspiracy theories pointing to a variety foreign powers, including the United States, being behind an effort to drag Lebanon into civil war.
 
The rhetoric of sectarian animosity is becoming more aggressive and polarizing and coloring everyday conversation. Shiites and Sunnis accuse each other of being apostates even atheists.
 
Sunni Sheikh Mohammad Imam fears demonizing language legitimizes sectarian violence.

“Eliminating the opposite point of view is against the instructions of the holy Quran, which calls for dialogue and negotiating with people using moderation,” he warned the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English-language newspaper. He fears the Lebanese are dragging themselves into a bigger sectarian conflict.

Moderates say their voices are being drowned out amid the rising anger and turmoil.
 
An agreement in principle by Saad Hariri, the leader of the mainly Sunni March 14th bloc of political parties, to enter a unity government including Hezbollah, has triggered anger among militant Sunni leaders.   So far the agreement has come to naught with squabbling over cabinet positions making it look less likely every day.  But Abu al-Bara, an ultraconservative Sunni sheik in the north Lebanese town of Tripoli says the damage has been done and feelings against Hariri have hardened.  

“We now hate Hariri and all the Sunnis here hate Hariri because he decided to sell the blood of all martyrs and to go in with the other side,” he said.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid