Mobile  |  About us  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Subscriptions  |  RSS Feeds  |  Today's Paper  |  Classifieds  |  Contact Us
The Daily Star
09:43 PM Beirut time
18 °C
Blom Index
Lebanon News
Follow this story Print RSS Feed ePaper share this
Tensions mount in Arsal over Army measures
Army forces inspect cars going into Arsal.
Army forces inspect cars going into Arsal.
A+ A-

ARSAL, Lebanon: Typically busy on a weekday, the streets and alleys of Arsal are now quiet, both traffic and footfall having dropped significantly since the attack on the Army and death of two soldiers nearly two weeks ago.

With 45,000 residents and stretching over 316 square kilometers, the town is one of Lebanon’s largest, but many residents are now refraining from moving around in an attempt to avoid the numerous Army checkpoints and headquarters which have been set up around Arsal.

The outskirts of the town touch several Syrian villages.

People of the town are now cautious, waiting for what will happen next and trying to work out exactly who has been implicated in the crime, in which an Army patrol was attacked after apprehending a resident wanted on terrorism charges, who was himself killed in the arrest.

As a number of innocent people share the same name as those on the wanted list, some of them have been held and interrogated for several days, creating a tense atmosphere throughout the town.

Speaking on behalf of Arsal’s residents, the town’s mukhtar, Mohammad Hasan Hujeiry, says that “arbitrary measures are being taken against the residents of the town because of incomplete reports that some informants are providing to security bodies. These reports and measures are obstructing people’s businesses and humiliating them.”

According to Hujeiry, there are only 10 people who are still being held by the Army over the incident, only one of whom is suspected of being involved in the crime.

Several different rumors are being circulated by residents over what really happened, as they do not trust the official interpretation of events. They are also calling for a transparent investigation into the case.

Since the attack, one of the names being implicated in many media reports is that of Salafist Sheikh Mustapha Hujeiry, nicknamed Abu Taqiyeh. However, he denies media reports that he urged town residents through his mosque’s minaret to attack the patrol, denying he was even in Arsal at the time.

Another suspect, Arsal’s mayor Ali Hujeiry, nicknamed Ali Abu Ajineh, who is wanted for questioning by the Army intelligence, along with his son Hussein, says that the local Army and Internal Security Forces command initially denied they had a patrol in the town that day.

He says he only found out that the patrol belonged to Army intelligence after contacting head of the ISF Information Branch, Col. Imad Othman, who confirmed it.

After that, the mayor says, he made an effort to help save the lives of the wounded soldiers.

But following the incident the mayor called those residents of surrounding villages who held shows of support for the Army “thieves and thugs.”

A day after those comments, a local newspaper republished remarks he made to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the wake of the May 2008 clashes in which he said that he and the people of Arsal could “take over the entire Bekaa Valley, stretching from the village of Lebaa, near Arsal, to Maqneh, to the north of Baalbek, in 20 minutes.”

Maqneh is a mainly Shiite area, which crosses the highway from Baalbek to Homs.

Lebaa’s mayor, Ramez Amhaz, last week responded to Hujeiry’s 2008 comments, saying, “Arsal’s mayor cannot take over a single inch of this town,” and he called on the judiciary to prosecute the mayor for making threats.

This exchange of accusations between the two mayors has further exacerbated tension between the mainly Sunni Arsal and the majority Shiite villages of Nahla, Younnine, Maqneh, Lebaa and Nabih Othman, as well as the entire district of Baalbek-Hermel.

Arsal’s residents largely support the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, whereas those from the Shiite villages are overwhelmingly supportive of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

Adding to this sectarian element is the fact that residents of these villages are mainly clan members, so revenge attacks are a common occurrence.

Tension between Arsal and its Shiite neighbors dates back to the aftermath of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005 and then increased again following the May 2008 clashes.

Scuffles frequently erupted with residents of Shiite villages when convoys left Beirut to attend March 14 rallies.

Tensions increased again after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, particularly after the heavy militarization of the conflict.

Arsal also hosts around 12,000 Syrian refugees, with many local residents providing shelter and aid to those displaced by the conflict next door.

The town has also been a crucial hub for the smuggling of arms to the Syrian opposition in the governorates of Damascus and Homs.

The smuggling takes place through several routes, which were used long before the Syrian uprising to smuggle fuel and other products, and which were a source of living for around 10 percent of Arsal residents.

Aside from those who have already been questioned over the incident, a security source told The Daily Star that the Army intelligence and the Information Branch have a list of 40 names wanted in connection with the crime. Topping this list are Arsal’s mayor and his son, followed by Sheikh Mustapha Hujeiry and his son, Ubada, and one of the area’s prominent arms dealers, Hussein Ahmed Hujeiry, nicknamed Hussein Daad.

Most of those on the list are also wanted for other crimes such as arms dealing and for attacking Army and ISF patrols in the town on previous occasions. The list also includes other Salafists.

The list is being constantly updated according to new information, the security source said. The source suspects that the Army will remain positioned around the town for a long time, not only to bring in the wanted people for questioning but in order to block this central smuggling route of both arms and men.

Around 75 percent of arms smuggled from Lebanon to the Syrian opposition are transited through this route, the source added, especially since the Syrian government evacuated its positions on the adjacent section of their border late last month.

The source added that after both the Lebanese and Syrian armies closed the border crossing at Masharih al-Qaa, on the northeastern border, around three months ago, security bodies have discovered that smuggling has since been reorganized through new routes.

The new route now starts in Tripoli, and crosses through the village of Deir al-Ahmar, west of Baalbek. From Deir al-Ahmar arms are then transferred to Syria through the towns of Arsal, Nabih Uthman and Ras Baalbek.

The source said the attack on the Army had at least prompted it to deploy in these areas, adding that this would help minimize the smuggling of arms.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2013, on page 3.
Home Lebanon News
Lebanon / Syria

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus
More from
Rakan al-Fakih
Authorities arrest more suspects in Tripoli, Bekaa
Army prevents Tripoli protest, security plan moves forward
Security forces detain five under Bekaa security plan
Lebanese Army launches Bekaa Valley security plan
Lebanon Army launches Bekaa security plan

Baabda 2014
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Linked In Follow us on Google+ Subscribe to our Live Feed
Pictures of the day
A selection of images from around the world- Thursday April 17, 2014
View all view all
Rami G. Khouri
Rami G. Khouri
Silencing Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s hate talk
Michael Young
Michael Young
Why confuse gibberish with knowledge?
David Ignatius
David Ignatius
Putin will keep rolling, until Obama says no
View all view all
Click to View Articles
Privacy Policy | Anti-Spamming Policy | Disclaimer | Copyright Notice
© 2014 The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved - Designed and Developed By IDS