TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Deteriorating security and rumors of an imminent battle between rival neighborhoods left residents of Tripoli in a less than festive mood over Eid al-Adha, traditionally a time of celebration.
There were no children playing in the streets of the city. A small crowd gathered at the Mina mosque. The situation was calm in general, but celebratory fanfare to mark the holiday was conspicuously absent.
In the old markets of the city, where traditional festivities are typically held, sheep were slaughtered in the streets despite warnings from the municipality that the practice was unhealthy.
“Let the state authorities arrest the armed men who disrupt security in the city before they discuss health regulations,” was one resident’s response to the municipality’s warning.
Many residents who spoke to The Daily Star expressed fears that recent developments could cause the strained relations between the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and the Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh to give way altogether, leading to more fighting.
The arrest of Youssef Diab from Jabal Mohsen in connection with the deadly Aug. 23 twin car bombings that targeted the Al-Salam and Al-Taqwa mosques sparking exchanges of fire between local residents and the Army, later devolving into more fighting with Bab al-Tabbaneh. Diab’s arrest came just after the return of a prominent field commander from Bab al-Tabbaneh, Saad al-Masri, who was welcomed with a parade of arms. At a celebration where gunshots and grenades were fired in the air, Masri said that he would not hand over his arms so long as Hezbollah and Syria’s allies in Tripoli had theirs.
Rumors that a decisive battle would take place after Eid cast a pall over the holiday. Daily skirmishes between the residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen have only served to boost speculation.
Youssef al-Sheikh, a resident of Jabal Mohsen, said he had recently packed up his business in downtown Tripoli and move back to the neighborhood where he rents a shelter to hide in the event of renewed violence.
“It seems as though this situation will continue for years and we might need to use the shelter for days, even months,” he said.
“We are part of Tripoli’s social fabric and not a minority,” the Alawite sheikh said. “Our supportive stances toward [Syrian President] Bashar Assad is based on our belief that all parties and sects in the Levant should live under a national secular system, and not at the hands of takfiris and fundamentalists.”
Sources close to Masri, who usually keeps a low profile, expected that the situation would deteriorate fast when the details and the extent of the involvement of Jabal Mohsen members in the bombing attack come to light, as this will likely lead to demands that the Arab Democratic Party be dismantled, its head Rifaat Eid be arrested and that authorities raid Jabal Mohsen for arms.
Ali Fodda, the Arab Democratic Party’s media spokesman, reiterated Eid’s call to wait for the outcome of the investigation before taking action.
“We are not war enthusiasts, and we will wait until the military investigation is finalized. If Diab is involved then we will convict him, but if he is not then we will retaliate against the [ISF] Information Branch,” he said.
The escalatory tone also resonated with Bab al-Tabbaneh resident Mahmoud al-Asmar, who said the roots of animosity between the neighborhoods ran deep.
“The Syrian regime was known for its massacres, and Rifaat Eid and his father before him were traitors,” Asmar said.
“They and their armed men entered Bab al-Tabbaneh in 1985 and killed and slaughtered men, raped women and oppressed its residents until the March 14 uprising in 2005, when the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon.”
Despite the Syrian withdrawal, Asmar maintains their “killing squads” remain entrenched in Jabal Mohsen.
“ Jabal Mohsen will have to announce its disengagement with the Assad regime and evict the Eid family. The Alawites are our neighbors and part of our family, they are not our enemies. Our major problem is with the Assad regime and its armed followers in Jabal Mohsen.”