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.
    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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora