BSHARRI, Lebanon: Calm was restored to the northern town of Bsharri Wednesday, one day after authorities’ attempts to demolish illegal structures near the protected Cedar Forest sparked a violent altercation between security forces and supporters of former MP Gebran Tawk. Tawk appealed for peace and emphasized that two amphitheaters built on lands belonging to Maroun Tawk and Youssef Rahme would be removed in accordance with the decisions of the Interior Ministry and the Environment Ministry.
His comments came following a meeting chaired by the Auxiliary Bishop for the region of Jibbe, Maroun al-Amaar, that included Tawk, as well as lawyer Roy Issa Khoury, Said Tawk, representatives of the Committee of the Friends of the Cedar Forest and the committee for the Qadisha Valley and a number of mukhtars, priests and security officials for the region.
Participants deliberated with landowners of the Cedar Forest. All the parties present emphasized that confrontations with the security forces should be avoided in the future.
They also agreed on a mechanism for implementing the demolition order under the supervision of the committee commissioned by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to resolve the issue, in coordination with property owners.
Issa Khoury announced after the meeting that the demolition of the two amphitheaters would begin after informing Charbel in the presence of the landowners.
The issue began when a concrete amphitheater was constructed earlier this year on private land adjacent to the forest, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to serve as a venue for the wedding of Tawk’s son, William. The forest is one of few remaining places where Cedrus Libani, a protected species, grows.
A group of men Tuesday violently stopped security forces in the village from demolishing the amphitheater.
The protesters, supporters of former MP Gebran Tawk, a figure close to the March 8 alliance, blocked the roads by using boulders and piles of sandbags, while hurling stones at Internal Security Forces members, including members of an elite unit.
In response, the ISF fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, prompting the latter to burn tires in front of the Sayydet al-Nour Church and a restaurant in the town.
Several individual meetings took place to quell the violence and reach an agreement between Charbel and caretaker Environment Minister Nazem Khoury.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai also made an attempt at mediation between the relevant parties before traveling to Qatar. These efforts led to the withdrawal of the security forces from the site, easing tensions until an agreement was reached Wednesday to remove the new ampitheater and a second, unfinished one built years earlier.
Separately, the Lebanese Environment Movement criticized the “politicization” of the issue in a statement. They also criticized the attack on security forces, which were only implementing the decision taken by the Environment and Interior Ministries.
The movement said that it was the first party to notify officials of the illegal construction.