SAADIYAT, Lebanon: Several Army vehicles remained stationed at the entrance of Saadiyat Wednesday as tension persisted in the coastal Chouf village after a three-hour-long gunfight exploded the night before.
Seven people, including a woman and three children, were wounded.
The fighting erupted between the Hezbollah-linked Resistance Brigades and residents partisan to the Future Movement. Accounts vary about who shot first, but parties agree that tensions had been on the rise lately.
Five months ago, Hezbollah opened a place of prayer, known as a Musallah, in a nondescript apartment building wedged between several others in the lower part of the predominantly Sunni village. The block feels detached from the rest of Saadiyat, which sits at a higher elevation on the foot of the slopes just inland from the coastal highway.
Sunnis and Shiites live next to each other in both parts of the village.
Refaat al-Asaad, the mukhtar, accused Hezbollah of opening its Musallah, which is just meters from the intersection to the coastal road, to control traffic in and out of the area.
He said it was part of a conspiracy to seize control of the wider, traditionally Sunni area of Iqlim al-Kharroub. “It’s a sensitive subject. Hezbollah is placing its hands on the entrance of Iqlim al-Kharroub,” Asaad said in his office, which has a poster of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri taped to its door.
“They call it a Musallah, but it’s a military office, like a barracks. There are three underground floors, and they’re storing weapons inside. Every time there’s a problem, 300 of their fighters suddenly appear,” he said.
A video report from MTV showed no signs of weapons.
“They took control of our road. If reinforcements want to come from Beirut or the north [to help us], they can’t get through. [Hezbollah] wants to choke this road like it has choked the entrances to Bshamoun and Aramoun,” he said.
“The people of this village say no, we won’t let that happen. It’s caused tensions. Sometimes they shoot at us, we shoot at them.”
Speaking to The Daily Star, Future Movement sources said the clashes began when Resistance Brigades gunmen shot at a local Future Movement leader’s coffee shop near the Musallah.
“It was a provocation. All that the residents of Saadiyat did was self-defense,” one source said, requesting anonymity. “People were having their suhoor meal when bullets began to rain on them.”
A family living across from the Musallah, in the lower part of the village, said they heard shots coming from the rooftops. They hid in an interior room. The Daily Star saw shattered glass nearby.
Bullets shattered the windows of three shops just opposite the mukhtar’s office, and bullet holes marked their interior walls.
Younis Samra, who owns the barbershop in the middle, said, “By chance, we had closed early. Usually there are lots of people who gather here. But no one came last night, so we closed.”
He has no insurance and said he doesn’t expect the village to help him pay for repairs.
A grocer picked glass fragments out of a display of seeds and beans, next door.
Matters calmed down after the Army arrived and politicians were called, according to the mukhtar.
The Army said in a statement that a soldier was wounded when troops intervened to control the situation.
It added that troops were carrying out raids to apprehend all of those involved.
Bilal Dagher, the Hezbollah delegate for Mount Lebanon, told the National News Agency that the party had tried to dispel the rumors about the Musallah months ago. He said they have held prayers and celebrations with the village’s Sunnis and members of the mukhtar’s family.
A short time later, Hezbollah installed loudspeakers on the water tank on the roof to broadcast the Azan (the call to payer).
One of the mukhtar’s sons, said the Azan was a provocation.
“Future said, pray, but don’t use the speakers. The history and the affiliation of the area are well-known. Make your Azan in Jiyyeh. This area is ours.”
After mediation with the Future Movement, and the Progressive Socialist Party, Hezbollah agreed to stop the calls, according to Dagher. “It was causing discord. The call is merciful, we don’t want discord.”
The night they stopped the calls, Dagher said, the Musallah was sprayed with 100 bullets. This was a few days ago. He added that several Resistance Brigades men were beaten. Then, around midnight Tuesday, an unknown vehicle shot into the windows of a coffee shop, sparking the fighting, Dagher said.