BESHARRE, Lebanon: A group of men violently blocked security forces Tuesday in the northern village of Besharre from demolishing a concrete runway constructed for the wedding of a former MP's son near the ancient Cedars Forest.
The protesters, supporters of former MP Gebran Tawk, blocked the road in front of Internal Security Forces using large rocks and piles of sand, and hurled stones at the police, which included members of an elite unit.
In response, the ISF fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, prompting the latter to burn several tires in front of a the Sayyed al-Nour Church and a restaurant in the town.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel quickly contacted Tawk in order to calm the situation and reopen the road in front of the security agencies. The ISF had obtained a judicial order to begin work on demolishing the runway, according to a security source.
The concrete runway was constructed earlier this year as a venue for the wedding of Tawk’s son, William, and is located beside the ancient forest which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The forest located near Besharre is known as the Forest of the Cedars of God and is one of the rare sites where the Cedrus Lebani still grows.
According to UNESCO, the forest is the last trace of antique forests and "one of the most valued construction materials in the antique world." These ancient trees are "cited 103 times in the Bible," according to UNESCO.
UNESCO has recommended that illegal construction on the eastern side of the forest be removed given that the buildings are in an area subject to reforestation.
The Environment Ministry had tasked a committee headed by Besharre's mayor to study the damage on the forest as a result of the construction work to build the runway. The committee recommended the runway be demolished as soon as possible.
The head of Tawk's office, Hanna Basbous, warned that the supporters would remain on the ground until the security forces reconsider their decision to remove the runway.
“When we found out that the security forces were coming Tuesday morning to begin demolition, we immediately blocked the roads,” Basbous told The Daily Star.
"The security forces failed in their attempt to reopen the road and we informed that them that we will not withdraw until they take back their decision,” he added.
He also said that some environmental experts described the runway as an "artistic piece," but that some politicians in the area opposed it.