BEIRUT: After a long night of armed clashes, residents of the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh were split about the provenance of the gunmen who exchanged gunfire with the Army. Many locals affirmed the fighters were from the area, with others calling them outsiders. Almost everyone, however, said they backed the Army’s plans to deal with the gunmen.
Maher Hibri, a four decade resident of Tariq al-Jadideh, argued that the gunmen hailed from his neighborhood. Speaking to The Daily Star from his currency exchange shop on Afif Tibi Street, Hibri said that the men were “from the area” and “opened fire in the air ... one of them was masked, but I know who he is.”
“There were around four or five of them standing in every alley,” Hibri continued, calling the violence “shameful” and the men “thugs.” His shop was one of the few businesses open on the street Monday.
Hours after Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the head of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch, was laid to rest in downtown Beirut Sunday, people protesting his killing blocked roads in Tariq al-Jadideh and other neighborhoods in the capital for the third consecutive day.
Starting at around midnight, gunfire rattled throughout Tariq al-Jadideh, a stronghold of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, as armed men clashed with the Lebanese Army.
Hasan, who maintained close ties with Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh last week.
The Army raided militant hideouts in Beirut Monday, restoring calm in Tariq al-Jadideh and Qasqas, where there had also been gunfire.
The Future Movement denied that it had any links to the gunmen.
Hibri said that he strongly supports Hariri, but that what happened Sunday in his neighborhood is unacceptable.
“Why did they close roads? Two of my children slept away from home yesterday, they couldn’t make it [home] from Cola or Corniche al-Mazraa,” he said angrily.
Hibri wondered why the Army did not act decisively to open roads Sunday, rather than wait until Monday as it did in some cases: “Why hasn’t the Army arrested these thugs?”
“It was a horrible night ... kids were very afraid, it was literally a war,” said a woman preparing the stuffing for lahmbaajin, minced meat in thin dough, in a nearby bakery.
Unlike Hibri, the woman did not believe the men to be from the area.
“They are not from the area. It didn’t seem like they were really familiar with the streets,” she said, before acceding to her husband’s request to “stop talking politics.”
Ahmad Turk, the owner of a clothes shop in the same area, agreed that the men were outsiders.
“Who are the people who were shooting? We do not know them, no one here has arms,” he said. “They did not look familiar; they had beards and were well-built.”
Turk stressed that residents of the area had long been strong supporters of the Army: “The Army always protects us.”
Another area resident complained of Army inaction:
“We have no Army ... any armed man from any party is ... damaging cars and houses and people are worried,” he said. “Gunmen are saying hello to Army soldiers on Corniche al-Mazraa.”
The man, who refused to be named, said that Tariq al-Jadideh had been targeted because of its political affiliation with the Future Movement.
“Parties in areas that are far away are pouring oil on fire, and we end up suffering,” he said. “Residents of this area are targeted because they back Saad Hariri.”
Normally heavy with traffic, Corniche al-Mazraa was nearly empty Monday afternoon.
The nearby Al-Fakhani Street was busier, with many shops opening for business and locals sitting outside and socializing. Like many streets in the area, posters bearing Hasan’s face plastered the walls.
“You tell us, are we going to sleep tonight?” asked a young man from the sidewalk where he and some friends had set out chairs.
Ahmad Dabboura stated frankly that neighborhood occupants were involved in the clashes, and regretted that they had not been more intense.
“If you visit hospitals, you will figure out that the wounded in the clashes hail from Tariq al-Jadideh,” the local man said. “They were taking part in the fighting.”
“It should have been worse,” Dabboura argued. “Wissam al-Hasan served Lebanon. We will repeat this [fighting] when someone assaults us. This is a message to the allies of Syria, who are now orphans, that Tariq al-Jadideh will not be a scapegoat.”
According to Dabboura, residents did not set up to fight with the Army. He said that they were responding to gunfire from Amal Movement members in the Wata al-Mosseitbeh neighborhood, a stronghold of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party.