Lebanon News

Residents of Aisha Bakkar fear more violence after street clashes

BEIRUT: A tense calm held in the Beirut neighborhood of Aisha Bakkar during the day Monday after armed clashes on Sunday left one person killed and several wounded. A large number of Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers tanks and armored personnel carriers lined Rachidine Street, which divides Aisha Bakkar between supporters of the Future and Amal parties, as the military tried to keep calm in the neighborhood.

Despite the military presence, the atmosphere in the neighborhood was strained, as groups of men congregated on sidewalks and around vandalized cars and shattered glass from Sunday's fighting.

On both sides of the road people were uncertain that the calm would hold.

Khalil Gubeyl, a 34-year-old who works at a food shop on Rachidine Street, said he saw both sides carrying guns and preparing to fight at noon Monday. He added that he was not optimistic that this would be the end to the conflict.

"As we saw and heard they are prepared to make trouble," said Gubeyl.

Store owners in Aisha Bakkar saw men start fires in the street, as periodic police patrols did little to deter young men from gathering in large groups, unusual for the normally busy area.

Monday's fighting resulted in the death of Zeina al-Meeri, who was killed in the Future Movement area of the neighborhood. Anger over Meeri's killing seem to be the pressing issue that could spark more fighting.

Asked if he thought there would be more clashes, Rani, a young man who lives on the Future Movement side of Aisha Bakkar, said he was sure clashes could occur as a result of the death of Meeri. "If the army doesn't do anything to get revenge or stop the killers, yes I think so," he said.

As anger mounts over Meeri's killing, the tension in Aisha Bakkar goes largely down sectarian lines. Supporters of the Future Movement are mostly Sunnis, while those who back Amal are predominantly Shiite. This type of sectarian fighting has destabilized Lebanon for years and fueled the 1975-1990 Civil War.

Imad Staitiah, owner of Ramadan Pharmacy in Aisha Bakkar, said the general mood on the street was animosity between the Sunnis and the Shiites. He also said that the fighting has had an impact on business. Store windows were broken during the fighting and several stores didn't open at all on Monday.

Sunday's fighting breaks a period of relative calm in Beirut and comes during a crucial post-election period of government formation. That process has escalated the tension between opposing political parties and could be to blame for the recent fighting.

Members of the March 14 and March 8 coalitions have declined to vote for each others' candidates for positions in government, raising the political tensions on the streets in Beirut.

The selection of Amal leader Nabih Berri as speaker and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri as premier and the ensuing celebratory gunfire for both leaders is said to have sparked the conflict in Aisha Bakkar.

During and after the elections, all politicians have roundly condemned the use of weapons and the escalation to violence. But the recent clashes, which occurred in the middle of the day, represent a new dynamic and cast doubt on whether political party leaders can reign in a street feud between well-armed fighters who support their parties

"Everybody here waits," said an older man from the Shiite section of Aisha Bakkar.





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