BEIRUT: A clash in Burj Hammound over the weekend that left four people wounded is reigniting tensions between longtime residents of the district and laborers from abroad, local officials and residents told The Daily Star Monday. The violence, which broke out shortly after midnight Sunday, pitted a group of Kurdish workers against Lebanese men, four of whom, aged 18 to 34, suffered serious knife wounds.
In the aftermath, local residents began forcing foreign laborers from their apartments.
Last year, a rash of violent disputes led residents to campaign for a limit on the number of unrelated laborers living together in one apartment.
The stabbing of a Lebanese by a Kurdish man over a parking dispute in November in particular sparked the push for stricter regulations. After receiving complaints, the Tashnag Party, which enjoys great popularity in Burj Hammoud, urged apartment owners in the area to rent only to families, a move that was seen by many as discriminatory against single workers who are looking for places to live.
The municipality of Burj Hammoud launched a project to regulate rent in the district and ensure tenants meet all legal requirements.
But speaking on condition of anonymity, a source from the municipality said that the political backing for implementing last year’s rent restrictions had disappeared.
“The municipality was working to gather information on the tenants in the district, but the work quickly stopped,” the source said.
“It seems that property owners have a greater influence in the area,” the source added.
Residents say that nothing has changed and many continue to blame a deterioration of security on foreigners.
“The situation is getting out of control. We are fed up and we are unable to protect our children on the streets from gangs carrying knives every day,” said Boghos Ghazarian, the father of one of the victims of the weekend attack.
A security source said that the Lebanese and Kurds clashed over a personal dispute.
According to the victims, however, around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, they were attacked by at least five Kurdish laborers armed with knives.
“I heard shouts and loud noise at 1:30, I went downstairs to check what was going on, and just as I talked to one of them I got stabbed on my shoulder,” said Samer Toufeili, 18.
All four victims described the one-minute long clash that led to their hospitalization. All men were stabbed at least twice and were taken to the nearby St. Joseph Hospital.
Ghazarian said that if the state’s failure to impose law and order continues, he and his neighbors will do what is necessary to protect their neighborhood. “If the state cannot ensure our children’s safety, we will take the necessary measures to protect our streets,” he said.
The Army and police made a number of arrests in the area after the clash, but the victims say that those who assaulted them are on the run.
“From now on, we will guard our street every day ... we don’t want any Kurds or any other foreigner who are going to endanger our lives here,” said Ali Toufeili, the father of another victim who himself suffered a bruise on his face.
Residents also complained that neither the police nor local officials are listening to their complaints or demands. “This is the first serious clash on this street, but we hear of these clashes everyday in Burj Hammoud ... men living by themselves next to apartments filled with families is not acceptable,” said Elie Kussa, a resident of the same street.
“For every Lebanese there are now four foreigners in the streets and they are practicing all kinds of immoral acts that have become a danger to our children ... from drunks on the streets to men sexually assaulting women at night,” Kussa added.
Some residents began taking their frustration out directly on foreign laborers and landowners who rent them their apartments. Residents of the tiny street in Burj Hammoud said they would no longer allow their return.
These types of apparently random attacks on foreigners were reported after last year’s disputes.
One Syrian family that tried to return home Sunday accompanied by police officers was confronted by angry residents. The owner of a nearby building who was helping several Bangladeshi women leave their apartment was assaulted by one of the residents.
“Don’t you ever try to bring foreign laborers to this street again ... you are the reason behind this situation,” one man screamed at the owner.
“I also rent out to families and your accusations are simply a lie,” responded the owner before being forced to leave the area.