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Nadine Elali

Christian resistance brigades?

Hezbollah is believed to be arming Christian groups affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement in villages east of Saida under the pretext of thwarting an ISIS threat in Jezzine

The statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks the deserted main road leading to the entrance of the Christian southern Lebanese town of Jezzine 26 May 1999 (AFP Photo/Ali Diya)

Hezbollah is believed to be arming Christian groups affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in villages east of Saida under the pretext of thwarting an Islamic State (ISIS) threat in Jezzine. While some officials and residents deny these claims, others believe that the move – although perhaps limited to FPM affiliates – is meant to bolster Hezbollah’s resistance brigades in the area and implicate Christian Lebanese in the Shiite party’s fight against Sunni Islamic groups.

 

NOW met with a social and human rights activist in Saida, who, on condition of anonymity, said that secret meetings have been taking place in private homes in Jezzine between Hezbollah officials and FPM affiliates on the issue of security. According to the source, Hezbollah is believed to be establishing Christian resistance brigades among local Christians whose cadres and members are affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) similar to those formed in Saida and elsewhere in Lebanon. “Under the pretext of thwarting threats from the Islamic State and Nusra Front sleeper cells,” he told NOW, “Hezbollah is arming young Christian men in order to guard their villages for a monthly salary of $500, along with ammunition.”

 

In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcast Channel, MTV, Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MP Ziad Aswad refuted these allegations, saying that they are an attempt to distort the party's image and political stances. FPM’s head of security, Joseph Farhat, said that the party’s leadership rejects the idea of arming Christians, but according to local media outlet Janoubia, he did confirm that area residents – though maybe not on a large scale – are actually buying weapons.

 

A delegation from Hezbollah’s political bureau, headed by Ghaleb Abou Zeinab, visited Christian clergymen from Saida and Jezzine earlier this month to discuss the issue of security. Some days later, the same delegation met with prominent officials, municipality heads and mayors from the area. NOW spoke to Nicolas Andraos, head of Salhieh Municipality, and to Bishop Elie Haddad of the Catholic Diocese, both of whom were present at the meetings. They told NOW that Hezbollah’s delegates made no mention of arming but stressed a need for groups to put political differences aside and "unite against the Islamic State’s threat to Lebanon.” They also expressed the party’s command readiness “to collaborate with locals in order to thwart such threats.”

 

The FPM and their allies control 55% of the Federation of Municipalities of Jezzine, whereas the Lebanese Forces (LF) and their allies control 45%, as of the Federation’s elections in 2010. NOW spoke to Ajaj Haddad, an LF member whose family has presided over Roum’s municipality for decades and who is well-informed on political and security activities in the region.

 

Haddad says that LF supporters in Jezzine reject the idea of carrying arms and believe that security is the responsibility of the state and state institutions alone. “Others,” he said – in reference to Aounists who are arming – “are only a few and are not representative of the majority of Christians.”

 

Haddad went on to say that while rumors of Nusra Front and ISIS sleeper cells in Lebanon have reinforced a general fear among the Lebanese public, their circulation in tandem with news of Lebanese Army raids on Syrian workers’ households are meant to reinforce a sense of threat by Islamic forces against Christians in particular. “Information that ISIS and the Nusra Front exist in Jezzine,” he said, “is not true,” adding that Syrians were arrested recently for purportedly entering Lebanon illegally, with some being released and others transferred to General Security.

 

Hezbollah, Haddad says, is “spreading this propaganda and exerting these efforts today, to justify the party’s existence.” Since 2007, he continued, “the party has been committing grave mistakes and its interference in the Syrian war has turned the Lebanese against it. Hezbollah’s plan to arm groups is meant to create more chaos in Lebanon to weaken the state and justify Hezbollah’s need to continue carrying arms – and what better pretext is there today than the threat of the Islamic State?”

 

“This is an opportunity for Hezbollah to approach people again by warning them of the fear of ISIS and offering their help for protection,” he said. “If such threats from the Islamic State do exist, then why didn’t Hezbollah protect the border when it had the chance to? when it won battles in Qusayr and in Qalamoun? And why is Hezbollah today against the alliance to combat the Islamic State?”

 

NOW’s social activist source in Saida agrees, saying that Hezbollah is trying to implicate Lebanese Christians in its battles against Sunni Islamic groups by using ISIS as a pretext for them to carry arms.

 

“We’ve had our experiences with arms,” says Haddad, “and we have come to the conclusion that the fight for existence is not one fought with weapons – Hezbollah needs to understand that. They are dragging us into committing the same mistakes we committed before during the civil war, but we won’t.”  

“Information that ISIS and the Nusra Front exist in Jezzine is not true," says Ajaj Haddad. (AFP Photo/Ali Diya)

If such threats of the Islamic State do exist, then why didn’t Hezbollah protect the border when it had the chance to? when it won battles in Qusayr and in Qalamoun? And why is Hezbollah today against the alliance to combat the Islamic State?”

  • Greco

    LFers are still stuck in civil war mentality: and they are stuck in an alliance with the same forces that want to kill them. Just look at Nusra and sunni jihadis. Hezbollah is the only force standing between them.

    October 17, 2014

  • Karole du Pont

    The Lebanese people must prevail in Lebanon and must stop blaming each other for conflicts created by non-Lebanese. I once read a text where Lebanese individuals were commenting on the so many wars in Lebanon with "Foreigners are waging their wars in Lebanon". At least in Lebanon, Muslims and Christians have a constitution where they all have rights to govern and despite all the criticism over religious representation from some, we see what happens in the ME when the rights of all are not protected.

    September 27, 2014

  • Patriot60

    Hezbollah's ultimate goal is to start an intra-necine war among Christians. They might succeed given the Aouni mentality that says me or no one. It will be no-one, soon followed by no country... get ready for new massacres.

    September 26, 2014

  • Karole du Pont

    Lebanese should understand that whatever their past with the civil war, their political system has been workable and represents Lebanese differential identity which they should be proud of. Lots of conflicts in the Middle East, but Lebanon must grow in its own identity.

    September 25, 2014

  • Karole du Pont

    The question is more if the Hezbollah is Lebanese it must act in the interest of all Lebanese...All Lebanese must protect Lebanon.

    September 25, 2014