SIDON, Lebanon: There is growing concern over Hezbollah’s recent decision to reactivate and boost the activities of the controversial Resistance Brigades in Sidon, according to a political source close to the situation.
The decision risks reaggravating tensions in Sidon’s neighborhoods, according to the source.
The move could disrupt the relative calm of the last few months that arose after the cessation of divisive political speeches by various groups in the city and Hezbollah’s restrictions on the Resistance Brigades.
Last summer, political sources told The Daily Star that a number of security incidents in the city and its suburbs, all involving brigade members, had raised fears the group was becoming increasingly reckless since Salafist Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir fled in June, sources said.
In response, Hezbollah scaled down the Resistance Brigades in Sidon by half in October, cutting the number of fighters to 200-250 and purging its ranks of troublemakers who were exacerbating tensions with the local community.
However, it stopped short of disbanding the group, despite media reports to the contrary, sources with knowledge of the issue told The Daily Star Thursday.
“The decision to minimize the role and number of the fighters doesn’t mean that the brigades are dismantled and discarded as a security arm of Hezbollah,” a political source in Sidon said. “Rather, it means that the party is seeking to organize it more, redefine its role and keep its members under control.”
The group was formed by Hezbollah in 2009 and is comprised of mainly Sunni supporters from Sidon.
The fighters who remain after the purge are “disciplined” and have undergone military and education sessions, a source close to the party said, adding that among those kicked out of the group were several religious figures.
The reactivation has elicited anxiety among local political parties, including those allied with Hezbollah. These parties see it as negative development, potentially providing a pretext for other political actors to demand a security plan for Sidon to turn it into an arms-free city, which would deal a blow to Hezbollah.
The sources said that Hezbollah needed to calm residents’ anger toward the members of the brigades rather than exacerbating tensions and anger.
The Daily Star has learned that delegations have been shuttling between Sidon and Hezbollah’s offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs to convince the party to reverse its reactivation of the brigades.
The delegations, which include several religious and political figures, have reportedly told Hezbollah that there would be no benefit for the party in losing support in Sidon, which would happen if it carried on with its plans.