Monday, May 21, 2007

Dubious Militants & the Violated Sanctity of the Bathroom

It's summertime and Lebanon is making headline news again. "Lebanon hit by worst violence since civil war" the first headline on the Google News aggregator screeches (as if the last summer never happened.)

Well it was about time. The events in Gaza were getting way too depressing. The rhetoric of "severe and harsh" responses, the "promise" of a painful escalation emanating from that profane hole in Olmert's face were just a tad too familiar. So it's time for something new and slightly more esoteric:

Fatah al Islam-- a kooky Salafist group, which nobody had heard about until recently-- has set up shop in the Nahr el Bared Palestinian refugee camp and is battling it out with the Lebanese army. The group apparently also own prime real estate in an upscale neighborhood of nearby Tripoli -- worth a million dollars and upwards-- which they used as snipers' nests during the house to house gun battles yesterday.

The fighting erupted early Sunday morning when soldiers raided an apartment inhabited by militants to arrest the suspected perpetrators of a bank robbery. Fatah al Islam subsequently stormed the army posts outside the camp, lining up and executing eleven soldiers. At least 47 dead in yesterday's clashes, without an updated casualty count from the besieged Nahr el Bared camp where 40,000 Palestinian refugees live. Fighting continued today.

Nobody really knows who Fatah al Islam are or what they want. Their members reportedly hail from as far as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bangladesh. They stand accused of having ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq and of carrying out the Ain Alaq bus bombing, which the group denies ( very un-qaeda'esque not to claim responsibility.) According to a spokesman, they seek to "protect the Sunnis of Lebanon" and a sheikh associated with them recently complained that only the Shi'a are allowed to yield weapons. The militant equivalent of penis envy, perhaps. Either way, they need better PR.

Saniora's government claims Fatah al Islam, a breakaway group of the Palestinian Fatah al Intifada, work for Syrian intelligence. Seymour Hersh writing in the New Yorker in January proposed an alternative explanation:

"Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, 'The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.' Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. 'I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,' Crooke said."

Apparently, Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa granted entry visas to 2,000 Al Qaeda-associated militants in December 2005 who never left Lebanon, but rather set up shop in that same camp. Read the rest of Hersh's piece to learn how Saad al Hariri intervened to release Salafist militants from prison. New TV just reported that a framed picture of al-Hariri was found in one of the homes of the militants in Tripoli. Oops!

This is all old news, of course, and the western media is doing us all a great disservice by blindly regurgitating the Saniora government's claims about Syrian sponsorship, and by ignoring these embarassing little details. Fatfat, the minister of Youth, Sports & Caffeinated Beverages, put in his two cents arguing that the violence was intended to derail the International Tribunal. Nayla Mouawad-- just now on CNN-- reiterated the same, and said something about no longer tolerating the "extra-territoriality" of the Palestinians. Lovely. The dumb bell CNN anchor who looked as confused as ever listening to the convoluted ramblings of Dame Nayla made it seem like Fatah al Islam represented the entire Palestinian nation in exile.

What seems clear is that whoever once sponsored or gave orders to Fatah al Islam has unleashed a beast they no longer control and a policy of trying to contain (or tolerate) the group is no longer working.

In the meantime, the army which is not allowed to enter Nahr el Bared, is shelling the camp "indiscriminately", according to a PFLP spokesman earlier today. The wounded are not receiving medical attention; fires are raging. "We want ambulances to be allowed into the refugee camp to transfer the civilian casualties. We also want fire brigades to enter the camp and put off the fire in many buildings." A cloud of black smoke envelopes the camp, and rescue workers who were trying to evacuate the wounded were fired upon.


Last night, I watched a cheesy thriller on TV as a respite from the bad news. My tolerance for cinematic suspense is low, a hereditary condition handed down by my mother who leaves the room at least 20 times in the course of an episode of "Columbo". After the movie, my friend M. went home and I went to the bathroom. With the ominous film soundtrack still ringing in my ear, I was just sitting down on the loo (excuse the details) when I decided that it was best to close the window behind me, so as not to have my back to it (they always attack from behind in movies.)

Suddenly I heard an extraordinary blast, which shook the whole bathroom. For a moment I thought the noise was in my head, that I has suffered some sort of brain tremor, that my vision was blurred and my ears were ringing from combusted brain cells. I heard something fall in the kitchen. I leaped up and ran into the living room to call my friend M. who had just left the house minutes earlier. By the time I dialed his number, he was pounding on the door.

"What was that?" "A massive explosion. There was glass breaking outside," he said, hurrying past me into the living room to turn on the TV.

There were no reports on TV, so we climbed up to the roof. Most of the neighbors were standing out on their balconies. Nobody spoke, except for the policemen who guard the minister's home across the street. They were frantically trying to re-assume their position in front of the house they are supposed to be guarding. Billows of black smoke and the smell of burning carbon filled the air.

I sent as many text messages as my shaking hand allowed-- to family and friends. Conflicting reports about the exact location of the bombing appeared on various news sites, until-- about forty-five minutes later-- it was established that a car bomb had exploded in a parking lot next to the ABC Achrafiye mall, just a few hundred meters away. The bomb tore a 3 m wide and 1/5 m deep radius into the ground. A wall collapsed on a 63-year old lady in her nearby apartment. 12 others were wounded by broken glass.

Lebanon is making headlines again; the Palestinians are bearing the brunt of it, and we are chain-smoking ourselves to death in the early summer sun.


Anonymous said...

that episode must have given a whole new meaning to the term "holy Crap"

Anonymous said...

I like your blog. It gives an interesting foreigner's perspective of my home country. I've been an expat for many years and often times feel like a foreigner there myself - so I certainly enjoy your anectdotes.

That said I do not agree with your political views on Lebanon. On the evilness of the current regime in the US we see eye-to-eye, but I don't understand how you can defend Syria. Did you know that you would be raped, tortured and killed if you maintained this blog from Damascus? You'd get that sentence only if you support the opposition. I wonder what the punishment is for a violent uprising against a legitimate government. Don't you realize that those who you defend in Lebanon want to turn my beloved country into the same type of place?

Now to your piece.

Why no mention of who shot on the rescue workers trying to evacuate the wounded? All sources I heard, including Jazeera, say it was Fatah el Islam that was not allowing rescue workers in. Rather than indiscriminately blaming the Lebanese military for over reacting, I think your readers deserve an unbiased fact here and there.

I think it is also dubious to quote Seymore Hersch, who didn't even know that the Syrian president is Bashar (not Bashir) Assad. That article has so many holes in it that I wont repeat here as many much smarter than I have already pointed out.

Lastly, Dame Nayla points out that this is the work of the Syrians trying to disrupt the Internation Tribunal. I agree that the M14 alliance is all too ready to point the blame at Syria for everything, but the initial signs do point in that direction non? No no no I must be wrong!!! You're right it's Monster Moallem who's right when he points out that it is the work of Al Qaida hoping to establish the tribunal...

My thoughts and prayers go out to the brave Lebanese soldiers defending my country from these violent foreign islamists (be they Al Qaida or sponsored by Al Baath). I also pray for those innocent human shields that are unwillingly paying the ultimate price.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous, maybe you´re right.
MAYBE... I only would like to know where were this brave Lebanese soldiers when Lebanese unprotected children, men and women were under Israeli attack for so long last year ...?

Unknown said...

She lives ... :)

Anonymous said...

Hello anonymous.

Firstly, these brave Lebanese soldiers were not allowed into the south to protect innocent women and children. As an aside you can not do much to protect the innocent from indiscriminate air strikes of the IDF.

Secondly, the war last summer was brought on by Hizbullah, not the LAF. This is the problem with having armed factions within a country that can unilaterally declare war. A foolish war at best. So they didn't lose to the IDF. If not losing is a divine victory then so be it. How much has that cost us? I am glad to note that the Lebanese army did provide logistic support to HA during that debacle, and is protecting the south now. The LAF has on more than one occasion faced off against the IDF. As another aside, cool heads prevailed in those stand offs and there was no loss of life. To me that is better protection than Hizbullah was able to provide.

Let's summarzie.

LAF against IDF:
No loss of life
No displacement of residents
No destruction of infrastructure
No IDF incursions into south

HA against IDF:
1500 mostly civilian deaths
Destruction of most major roads, bridges throughout the country
Displacement of 20-30% of total Lebanese population
IDF re-occupation of southern villages

With those stats, I'll take the LAF anyday.

Anonymous said...

I am really happy to see that you are writing again. I missed reading your blog.

shax said...

Nah el Bared refugees need aid:

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous 1

Let's hope these brave soldiers will also defend us from the sectarian killers like the Lebanese Forces (it's just that you seem to have forgotten to mention them in you "enemies of Lebanon" tirade.)

By-the-way, if Fateh al-Islam are funded by Syria why do they need to rob a bank (and for $1,500)?

Maybe they need some pocket money?

Hmmm, questions, questions.

anonymous 3

Anonymous said...

Hello Anonymous 3. My name is Johnny by the way. I don't have a google/blogger identity and can't be bothered to create one so I will stay as anonymous. I offer my name in order to humanize our exchange.

I agree with you whole heartedly that should the Ouwet or Lebanese Forces start street fights and killing people that the LAF go in and take care of them. NO arms independent of the Lebanese government means NO arms independent of the Lebanese government. Should the current opposition win the next round of elections and beocme the government I will continue to stand by that statement.

There is noone in the current political elite that doesn't have blood on their hands. No one. And don't say HA has only fought the Israelis. The destruction and death last summer is on their hands. So though HA may have had clean hands they no longer do. LF, Aoun, SSNP, AMAL, HA, PSP, PLO,the list goes on and on. None of them should be armed.

I am neither M14 or M8 or Ouwet or FPM of HA or any of the others. In my home in the west I am a left leaning independent. In my home in the east I am a right leaning independent. I'm about as middle of the road as there can be.

I am not saying that M14 is right or the best thing to happen to Lebanon. I will say that at this current time I would rather live in the M14 Lebanon than the M8 Lebanon. Neither are perfect, but one provides a more convincing argument about wanting Lebanon to be a free, sovereign and independent country than the other. That is what I stand for. No to tutelage, no to mini statelets. No to arms independent of the government.

Before you say it I will agree with you that M14 is a little too close to the US and the West, heck the entire world outside of Syria and Iran. You know what. I'll take that for now, and work on getting their fingers out of the pie in subsequent years.

Syria's control of our country has gone on too long. Bashar should go liberate the Golan rather than try to re-occupy Lebanon. God be with them over there. God be with them overe here if they are not trying to control us.

Lastly I hope you and all other friends stay safe.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:48
if Fateh al-Islam are funded by Syria why do they need to rob a bank (and for $1,500)?
Because that's what Syria has been doing for the last 15 years :)

Anonymous said...

"Lebanon hit by worst violence since civil war" the first headline on the Google News aggregator screeches (as if the last summer never happened.)
Last summer's war was targetting Hezbollah, not Lebanon. It's not the same.
Take care, EDB!
p.s: Yep, I'm back! Everytime there's a war I get back to those same blogs! :)

Anonymous said...

"Last summer's war was targetting Hezbollah, not Lebanon. It's not the same."

Honestly, this is what you believe? When the airport, bridges, and basically the entire infrastructure of Lebanon was targeted and a lot of it bombed? Your statement is nonsensical.

Anonymous said...


I think you are a liar and a fraud.

Your whole story about being shook from the toilet was BS. Since when does a 12 kilo car bomb in Ashrafiye rattle Hamra? Stop pretending that you are anything but a self rightious spoiled rich girl who loves being able to play war as long as mommy and daddy keep paying your rent.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 1:46am
can you read? EDB says in every recent post that she lives in Achrafieh. Get a grip

Anonymous said...

yeah, but I heard she takes dumps in Hamra....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:46 AM also goes by the name Achille.

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