SIDON, Lebanon: Sidon’s residents are becoming increasingly wary of Hezbollah’s Resistance Brigades, which local leaders and organizations describe as increasingly thuggish and violent. In the most recent incident this week, police in the southern city arrested 11 members of Hezbollah’s Resistance Brigades for breaking into a local shop over a personal dispute.
Members of the Azzam family clashed Sunday night with members of the Sous family, some of whom are part of the Resistance Brigades. The fight prompted men from the Sous family to break into Mohammad Azzam’s shop in the neighborhood of Al-Bustan al-Kabeer, ransack its contents and fire shots in the air.
The Internal Security Forces arrested the 11 men Monday and Tuesday, a security source told The Daily Star. The detainees were distributed between two police stations in the coastal city as they waited for the public prosecutor to refer them to the appropriate court.
Three other men involved in the dispute are still at large and are being pursued, police said.
Hezbollah formed the Resistance Brigades in 2009 and they are comprised of mainly Sunni supporters from Sidon. But the group has become notorious for its troublemaking in the Sunni-dominated city. Hezbollah recently reduced the number of the Resistance Brigades fighters from around 500 to between 200 and 250 and purged its ranks of those who have been exacerbating tensions with the local community, a source close to the party told The Daily Star in October.
Sidon residents have complained of regular disturbances and thuggish behavior by the brigades’ fighters and have criticized them for becoming too confident of their authority in the city.
Hezbollah’s ally, the Popular Nasserite Organization, condemned the weekend attack Tuesday and called on security forces to do their part and firmly punish the offenders, particularly since Ahmad Ahmad, son of one of the Nasserite party’s cadre, was attacked by the Brigades during the dispute.
“We ask the security forces to firmly deal with the troublemakers, whoever they may be and whatever cover they may have,” a statement released by the organization said.
The statement also said that the city’s safety was a national priority, and it was only the security forces’ responsibility to ensure that safety.
The party stressed maintaining security and stability in Sidon in order to safeguard national interests and those of the citizens.
South Lebanon coordinator for the Future Movement Nasser Hammoud said the arrest of the 11 men provided a sense of relief for the city. Hammoud said he hoped security forces would continue to enforce stability in Sidon.
“Our position is clear concerning the so-called Resistance Brigades, who deploy their weapons in the city, put its security at risk, cause trouble and assault citizens in various neighborhoods in Sidon,” he said.
Even Hezbollah’s allies have begun to feel distressed with the Resistance Brigades and the trouble and strife they cause in the city, Hammoud said.
“This is a healthy sign that all of Sidon has refused the so-called Resistance Brigades,” he said.
“The incident in Al-Bustan al-Kabeer has unveiled the truth and the goals of the Resistance Brigades and a large number of the members have been arrested for shooting and inciting strife,” he added.
In a statement released following its weekly meeting Tuesday, the Future bloc said such organizations disrupted security in Sidon, which should only be the responsibility of the government.
“The bloc discussed the rampant abuses committed by the so-called Resistance Brigades, especially in the city of Sidon and its surrounding areas, and believes the existence of these militias and shabbiha will keep tensions high in areas they occupy, areas which should be under the authority of the state,” the statement said.
Also Tuesday, the National Islamic Gathering in Sidon held a meeting with Brig. Gen. Ali Shahrour, head of Army intelligence in the south, and Col. Samir Chehade, regional commander of the Internal Security Forces in the south, to discuss the developments of the attack.
Bassam Hammoud, from the National Islamic Gathering’s political bureau, said the brigades were attacking citizens and terrifying them with daily provocations and shootings.
“Today we value and appreciate the role played by security forces in arresting the attackers, and we ask the judiciary not to tolerate any security breaches,” he said. “We are astonished by people’s attempts to play down the harm of such abuses, which affect Sidon socially and in terms of security and trade.”