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Army prevents Western Bekaa clash spiraling out of control
Lebanese soldiers on armored vehicles patrol the area after clashes that left four people dead in the Western Bekaa village of Suweiri, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)
Lebanese soldiers on armored vehicles patrol the area after clashes that left four people dead in the Western Bekaa village of Suweiri, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)
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SUWEIRI/SIREEN, Lebanon: The Army ended Sunday two days of clashes waged between two families in the Western Bekaa village of Suweiri that left six dead and several others wounded, raising fears of sectarian violence in the village.

For their part, Western Bekaa MP Ziad Qaderi, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, also an MP for the area, and former Western Bekaa MP Abdel-Rahim Mrad contacted Army officials and influential residents in a bid to contain the violence.

Backed by armored vehicles, the Army closed off the entrances to the village and blocked both highway lanes linking Rashaya to the Masnaa border crossing with Syria.

The root of the clash was a personal argument that broke out between Sayyed Janbayn and Ali Chouman Saturday inside the village butcher shop. Janbayn smashed the glass of Chouman’s car, at which point the latter opened fire using a pistol.

Clashes escalated and involved members of both families, killing soldier Mohammad Janbayn, Sayyed’s son and his uncle Faraj. Ali Chouman, his brothers and close relatives fled the village. Shortly afterward, members of the Janbayn family torched houses, shops and cars belonging to the Choumans.

Clashes renewed Sunday at the funeral of Mohammad Janbayn. During the funeral procession, members of the Janbayn family threw stones at the home of Zakaria Chouman, a relative of Ali.

In retaliation, Chouman opened fire with his machine gun on the people marching, sparking a clash that killed four and wounded six. The dead were Khaled Janbayn, an Army first sergeant, and Ahmad Janbayn, along with Rameh and Youssef Chouman.

The clash soon turned fierce as masked gunmen were seen patrolling the village streets. Nine houses belonging to the Choumans were set ablaze and many members of the family fled the village fearing retribution.

The Army stepped in to contain the situation and to prevent a full-out sectarian conflict, as the Choumans are Shiites while members of the Janbayn family are Sunni.

The Army said in a statement that it raided the homes of those who opened fire and arrested eight people. Many young men from Suweiri are also enlisted in the military.

Tension has been high in the Bekaa Valley in general since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. Most Shiite residents in the Bekaa Valley are supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while mainly Sunni villagers back the opposition.

Hezbollah’s May announcement that it was fighting alongside Assad’s troops in Syria has further exacerbated the situation.

The Army also reopened the road leading to the village of Sireen, near the international road linking Baalbek to Zahle, that members of the Chouman family briefly blocked Sunday evening.

The Army said in a statement Saturday that it had arrested three people suspected of killing the soldier.

Abu Faour telephoned Speaker Nabih Berri, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Army officials, calling for a swift intervention in Suweiri to avoid further escalation, warning that things could spiral out of control if left unchecked.

For his part, Qaderi telephoned Army officials along with Hariri and Siniora. Speaking to a local TV station, Qaderi said the timing of the clashes was suspicious.

“Especially because it happened during a delicate time that could lead to dangerous repercussions. Those responsible for what happened are criminals and they neither belong to a sect nor to a party,” said Qaderi, who is a member of the Future bloc.

Qaderi said the Army, Internal Security Forces and all security bodies were cooperating to restore calm.

He said Western Bekaa would continue to be a model of coexistence and strife would not be allowed to intensify.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 23, 2013, on page 3.
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