TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Rifaat Eid, the head of the Arab Democratic Party, said Wednesday that an increasing number of attacks were being directed at members of his Alawite sect, warning his group would retaliate fiercely if their Jabal Mohsen stronghold was targeted.
In response, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he condemned any attacks against residents in Tripoli and that Eid’s threats were “unacceptable.”
“I am sounding the alarm bell for the Alawite sect – several members of the sect were assaulted in the past week,” Eid told a news conference in the Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen.
Eid then named four Alawites he said had been assaulted by anti-Assad armed groups in Tripoli.
“Mohammad Saleh, a Tripoli municipal employee, was kidnapped while on duty and assaulted,” Eid said. “Yesterday [Tuesday] at midnight, Ghadir Suleiman was stabbed on his way to Nour Square [where supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir had gathered] and he did not know what was happening,” he added.
Hundreds of people supporting the Sidon-based Salafist preacher gathered in Tripoli’s Nour Square Tuesday night in a show of solidarity after he claimed that the Army was planning to raid his mosque in Abra, east of Sidon. The Army denied Assir’s claims.
Eid said Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s supporters opened fire at Jabal Mohsen when he spoke during a television interview last week.
“I ask Prime Minister Najib Mikati if he really represents the government of the March 8 coalition,” Eid said.
A source close to Mikati told The Daily Star he had no comment about the issue.
The ADP senior official also said that his brother had been among those targeted in Tripoli last week.
Since the outbreak of the war in Syria two years ago, Tripoli has seen successive waves of fighting between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood and his opponents in the adjacent mainly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
There are mounting fears that new clashes between the two neighborhoods could erupt soon.
Eid also criticized remarks made by a March 14 lawmaker, whom he did not identifiy, for saying that should Abra be subject to an attack, anti-Assad gunmen would invade Jabal Mohsen as a result.
“Every time something happens they attack Jabal Mohsen, which has become a scapegoat. I tell them: If you attack us this time, we will make you forget about Jabal Mohsen and [make you] look for another scapegoat instead,” Eid said.
Should violence break out again, Eid warned that he could no longer continue to pressure the residents of Jabal Mohsen to exercise self-restraint.
Siniora said in a statement that “the language used by Mr. Rifaat Eid is unacceptable and is not useful ... any type of assault against any individual is unacceptable.”
“If the incidents Mr. Eid has described are true, then we condemn them and the security bodies have to investigate them and punish the perpetrators,” added the head of the Future bloc.
Siniora called on the people of Tripoli not to be provoked by Eid’s threats and hostile rhetoric, which he said were aimed at dragging the city into civil strife.
“Tripoli was and will continue to be the city of moderation and tolerance along with coexistence between Muslims and Christians, and between Muslims. All the people of Tripoli are members of one family whether in Jabal Mohsen or Bab al-Tabbaneh,” Siniora added.
Referring to the Syrian war, Eid said the crisis had already spilled over into Lebanon because members of the radical Islamist Nusra Front, which is fighting Assad’s troops, had crossed the border into the country.
The ADP top official said “moderate” Sunnis were being driven out of Tripoli to Koura by extremist Islamists. But sources from Tripoli told The Daily Star the claims were false.
Eid said he still believed the Army was capable of putting an end to violence in Tripoli and said the Cabinet was failing to fulfill its responsibility to preserve coexistence in the city.
Eid also voiced his support for the Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal, which allows every sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system with the entirety of Lebanon as a single district.