Lebanon News

Hermel residents threaten to hit back at Syria rebels

Mourners pray at the coffin of a 13-year-old child who was killed when the town of Al-Qasr came under fire from Syrian territory.

HERMEL, Lebanon: Hermel residents threatened to take matters into their own hands Monday should the state fail to protect them against Syrian rebel attacks, as the government said it would file a complaint before the Arab League to protest the Syrian border violations.

Residents of Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali, a village in Hermel, buried Abbas Hussein Khaireddine, who was killed by rockets fired by Syrian rebels the day before. His funeral procession commenced at Al-Batoul Hospital, with Baalbek-Hermel MP Nawar Saheli, from Hezbollah, taking part.

Ali Hasan Qataya was also killed when rockets hit the village of Al-Qasr. He was buried in his village.

A rocket also landed in the Hermel district of Sahleit al-Mai Monday, but left no casualties.

The atmosphere around Hermel border villages remained tense, as schools and shops shut down and residents opted to stay home, fearing more shelling.

Hermel residents also went on strike to protest the attacks. Hussein Nassereddine, who lives near the mosque of Al-Qasr where the rockets landed, said residents in his village would enter Syria and attack the rebels themselves if they fired rockets again. “We used to respect them [the Syrians across the border] as neighbors, but we won’t any longer, particularly as there are terrorist groups and thieves [operating there],” he told The Daily Star.

“If rockets are fired again, we will not ask anyone to protect us, we will protect ourselves and our land, and we will fight them inside Syria, from wherever they fire rockets,” Nassereddine added.

Mohammad Jaafar, a prominent figure from Al-Qasr, said that residents of his village and other border villages would give the state 24 hours to protect the district from rocket fire, or else they will take the task upon themselves.

Syrian rebels told Al-Arabiya TV Sunday that they targeted what they claimed to be Hezbollah sites. Al-Qasr and Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali are Shiite villages that neighbor Syrian villages across the border, also inhabited by Lebanese Shiites.

Hezbollah says it is helping to defend the Lebanese who reside in the Syrian villages against attacks perpetrated by Syrian rebels. But the Syrian opposition argues that Hezbollah is actually fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops.

On the state level, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said the government would lodge a complaint before the Arab League to protest Syrian border violations.

“There are clear instructions to the Foreign Ministry from the president and the caretaker prime minister to document the violations and prepare a memorandum to send to the Arab League,” the caretaker minister said, adding that the memorandum would explain the attacks and request the league’s assistance in ending them.

Abu Faour made his comments following a meeting with President Michel Sleiman in Baabda Palace that was attended by other caretaker ministers and top security officials.

“Attacks and violations [along the border] are taking place by both the [Syrian] army and other parties. Violations that are carried out by either the regime army or any other group are rejected [by the government] and are unacceptable,” Abu Faour said, clearly referring to Syrian rebels who control territory near the border.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told The Daily Star that his ministry was awaiting a report from security authorities detailing Sunday’s aggression, along with previous border violations.

“Once we receive it, we will act accordingly,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

The Syrian army attacked an area close to the border town Arsal last week. Similar violations were made by regime troops ever since the uprising began in March 2011.

Abu Faour said the Army and the Internal Security Forces have begun taking measures along the border to protect residents. But Hermel residents said no such Army presence was visible.

Hezbollah senior official Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek said that Hermel residents would have to defend themselves if the state failed to handle the task.

“We ask the president and officials: Why do you refrain from protecting your people? Is Al-Qasr in or outside Lebanon?” he said during a seminar in Baalbek.

“The state ... is responsible for defending its people. When this state does not do so, we will defend ourselves by ourselves,” Yazbek said.

France denounced the shelling and stressed the need for Lebanon to remain out of the crisis across the border.

“We strongly condemn the bombing from Syria which killed two people and wounded several others in the Lebanese territory of Hermel,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.

For his part, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly voiced concern over the weekend’s border incidents.

“I would like to take this opportunity to stress our deep concern at the incidents over the weekend in which Lebanese citizens were killed as a result of [rocket] fire from Syria,” he said after talks with Ammar Moussawi, the head of Hezbollah’s International Relations Department.

“I would also like to reiterate the importance of respect for Lebanon’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and the need for all concerned to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and the Baabda Declaration,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2013, on page 1.

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