Pain lingers as violence fades in north Lebanon
Nov. 01, 2014
Kareem Shaheen| The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: “My brothers, this is the truth, not a fiery sermon,” the sheikh said as he rose moments before the Friday prayers. “We have been struck by many fires and we have suffered the consequences of many things we do not believe in.”The preacher, Sheikh Abu Sufyan, spoke from his pulpit at the Abdullah bin Massoud Mosque in Bab al-Tabbaneh, an austere prayer house with straw mats.
This was the mosque in which fugitive militants Shadi al-Mawlawi and Osama Mansur were allegedly hiding during the latest Army campaign in Tripoli – although some in the neighborhood, the hardest-hit in the fighting, said they had left Bab al-Tabbaneh earlier.
Order and calm had returned to the neighborhood by Friday. Teams of three or four soldiers were stationed at various points in the embattled district, and merchants and shop owners had returned to their stalls. Traders at the historic vegetable market hawked all kinds of produce and residents walked in the tiny streets again.
But a sense of melancholy permeated the embattled neighborhood, whose civilians suffered through rounds of violence with the neighboring Alawite-majority Jabal Mohsen over the Syrian war, only to endure the fallout of clashes between the Army and militants.
Friday’s sermon at the bin Massoud Mosque emphasized the need for nonviolence, and told residents to be patient and endure their suffering.
The preacher said the entire city should not bear the responsibility for mistakes made by individuals, but also complained that the neighborhood had been collectively punished by the actions of a few.
“If some people err, are all punished? If one of the soldiers insults me, is it permissible to blame all or to hold the entire state accountable for the actions of one soldier?” the preacher said.
“To the Lebanese state, you would not accept that, and you are right, and we also do not accept that an entire nation is attacked under the excuse of terrorism. “The state did oppress, and it knows that. If you were looking for some individuals then search for them, you have numerous soldiers.”
But the preacher also urged nonviolence and patience by residents. “No Muslim is permitted to kill anyone or to attack anyone,” he said. “But we also advise all those who have authority to be just with the people.”
“Have patience, God will bring ease after suffering. God will question every terrorist who cast fear on people, and God will question everyone who transgressed against people.”The fighting has exacerbated the poverty that has long beset this neighborhood. Unemployment is high among youth, and residents say the poverty allows politicians and extremists to exploit young men. They complain that they face pressure outside the neighborhood, and employers refuse to hire Bab al-Tabbaneh’s residents. In addition, religious conservatives in the area said they were the targets of discrimination. “Unemployment will cause youth to do anything,” said Essam al-Sheikh, a local mosque imam.
Sheikh said any extremism that emerges among the neighborhood’s youth is a result of the supposed dominance of Hezbollah within the apparatus of the Lebanese government. Many here oppose the party’s policies, particularly its use of arms in the May 2008 clashes in Lebanon and its intervention in Syria.
But he said those who do become radicals were from within the neighborhood, dismissing allegations that any outside organizations like ISIS or the Nusra Front were taking hold.
Residents mostly complained that a large-scale offensive was not necessary to clear the neighborhood, and that the Army was capable of simply arresting suspected militants, which they numbered as a maximum of 20. They also believe the use of helicopters was excessive.
They also said the Army ought to have given them more warning before launching the attack – even though the military did allow a cease-fire to evacuate civilians.
Mahmoud al-Sheikh’s son, Ali, was one who did not escape on time.
Ali, who was almost 9 years old, was killed during the fighting. The father said his son was waving at an Army helicopter from their verandah, before shrapnel from a rocket pierced the boy’s stomach, chest and thighs. He was rushed to the Lebanese Red Cross, but died on the operating table.
“He was crying ‘Dad don’t leave me,’” Ali’s grandmother said. “May you never endure such a thing.”
The father, Mahmoud, looked haggard as he described his ordeal.
“He was waving to the helicopter. Then he came inside to me carrying his leg and his guts were falling out.”
Mahmoud said his home should not have been targeted – that it was neutral, by the main road outside Bab al-Tabbaneh, and was housing a dozen other children, nephews and nieces, at the time of the fighting because it was seen as safer. In its myriad campaigns against terrorism, the Army has always taken major precautions to avoid civilian casualties. Speaking to The Daily Star, an Army source denied that Army helicopters bombarded Bab al-Tabbaneh. “We never use air force against crowded areas.” The source said that it was not possible to give a warning for residents to evacuate ahead of time, explaining that the battle was very fast. Mahmoud said he supported the Army and the state and stood against terrorism, but said residents should have been warned to leave the neighborhood and that politicians on both sides of the aisle had fooled the people. For now, Mahmoud has decided to stay with his family at a home close to Tripoli’s center. He said he could not go back to Bab al-Tabbaneh.
“Imagine, how can I go back home? And see my son’s blood still there?” he asked.