Lebanon News

In Majdal Anjar, Zabadani battle hits close to home

A general view of the eastern village of Majdal Anjar. On the other side of the mountain, the Syrian town of Zabadani is only 20 kilometers away. (The Daily Star/Elise Knusten)

MAJDAL ANJAR, Lebanon: For weeks, the village din in the Bekaa Valley border town of Majdal Anjar has been piqued almost daily by the sounds of bombs exploding in Zabadani, the besieged Syrian town just a few kilometers away.

While the residents of Majdal Anjar support the varied forces trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah’s pro-regime forces are engaged in a bloody battle just a stone’s throw from the conservative Sunni town.

If Majdal Anjar’s people have watched the slings and arrows of the Syrian revolution for years, Hezbollah’s offensive in Zabadani is hitting quite close to home.

For now, the town is quiet, if on edge. “On the face of things, it’s calm, but people are tense. We don’t know if things will blow up,” said Khaled, who works in Majdal Anjar.

“Most of the people here are worried,” said Deputy Mayor Hajj Hasan Hammoud.

“When Hezbollah and the Syrian army shoot [missiles] we can hear them very clearly here,” he said. Geographically, Zabadani is less than 20 kilometers from Majdal Anjar.

With windows rattling from the bombs and teeth set on edge, many residents are wondering what will happen if Zabadani falls.

“I’m not afraid of the missiles [from Zabadani] hitting us,” said Wissam Mohammad Annouz, who works with Dar al-Fatwa in the area. But if fighters cross into Majdal Anjar, “their enemy is going to follow them,” he added. “The fear is that Lebanon will become a war between these groups.”

Rami, also from Majdal Anjar, said that while there was a general desire to avoid a confrontation with Hezbollah, he was concerned that his town “might get stuck in the middle” of the hostilities between pro- and anti-regime forces.

“If a lot of people come from Zabadani, maybe Hezbollah will interfere and the [Lebanese] Army [won’t],” said Mohammad, who works at a clinic in the town that assists Syrian refugees.

“There could be security issues,” he said.

Like Mohammad, many citizens questioned whether or not the Lebanese Army would defend Majdal Anjar if the town found itself in Hezbollah’s war path.

“Our faith is in the Army,” Sheikh Mohammad Abdel Rahman said as he left the mosque after Friday’s prayers. Asked about the strength of that faith, Abdel Rahman acknowledged his concern that the Army had been “influenced by outside groups,” namely Hezbollah.

Sheikh Khaled Abdel Fattah lamented that Hezbollah’s military convoys pass through the Western Bekaa en route to Syria with impunity. If anyone in Majdal Anjar, however, were to give the rebels in Zabadani “even a fruit knife ... they would say we’re sending weapons and we’d be immediately arrested.”

“We’re a country ruled by Hezbollah,” he bristled.

Still, many said they don’t believe that Majdal Anjar will become a flash-point for fighting.

“As of now, we think nothing will happen” in the town, said Hammoud, the deputy mayor.

“Hezbollah cannot enter Sunni regions [in Lebanon],” said Abdel Fattah. “They’re losing men in Syria every day, so how can they come back to Lebanon?”

Aside from the proximity of the battle and concerns about violence seeping across the border, Hezbollah’s ongoing offensive in Zabadani has stirred emotions in a town that feels particular kinship to the suffering Syrian people. According to deputy mayor Hammoud, Majdal Anjar is currently hosting some 22,000 Syrian refugees.

“Once Hafez Assad said that we are one people in two countries. That is true,” said an employee in Majdal Anjar’s refugee clinic, in reference to Bashar Assad’s late father and ruler of Syria for 40 years.

“When ISIS burned the Jordanian pilot [Moaz al-Kassasbeh] the whole word raged against them, but today the Assad regime is burning thousands of innocent people in Zabadani. People are silent when they see this injustice,” Abdel Fattah said.

“We can count the seconds between each barrel bomb dropped on Zabadani,” sighed Saleh, a refugee who lives in a camp near Majdal Anjar.

“You can sympathize with [the people there] because we were in their situation before. We feel helpless,” said Bilal, another refugee.

The echoing bomb blasts just across the border throw into relief the reality that tens of thousands of refugees in Majdal Anjar and its environs are unlikely to return to Syria anytime soon.

Wissam Annouz said that while Lebanese citizens across the West Bekaa have welcomed refugees for the past four years, tempers and patience are fraying.

“My main worry is having a clash between the Lebanese and Syrian people,” he acknowledged.

“The situation is stressed.” – With additional reporting by Tala Ladki

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2015, on page 3.

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