Friday, June 28, 2013

The Men Who Get Rich Off Syrian Refugees

I wrote this story for The Atlantic

by Justin Salhani

Hassan is only 30 years old, though like most people who have lived through war, he looks much older. Sitting next to his father, a few neighbors, and the landlord of the room he rents at a former school Lebanon, he beams as he describes the elation he felt upon reuniting with his family last month after he fled his home in Nahriyeh, near Qusair, Syria, and the gratitude he has for his landlord's unremitting hospitality.
As Hassan's story comes to a close, he politely excuses himself to check on the children playing outside. Once outside, the diminutive man slyly looks over his right shoulder before lighting a cigarette.
"My dad doesn't know I smoke," he says in between drags. But Hassan didn't leave the room simply to get out of his father's line of sight. He left to escape the earshot of another guest.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Arab Spring NOW: Lebanese Army steps in to end Tripoli clashes

 This article appeared on Arab Spring NOW (  
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             Fighters in Bab al-Tabbaneh take aim at their foes in Jabal Mohsen  (Photo by Justin Salhani)     
By Justin Salhani in Beirut
Armed men engaged the Lebanese Armed Forces in Tripoli Thursday, following attempts by the LAF to confiscate arms from the city's troubled neighborhoods.

“The army will retaliate without hesitation to the sources of fire from any side because the residents of the city have the right to live in peace,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Al-Hayat newspaper. Mikati is also represents Tripoli in Lebanon’s parliament.

For years, sporadic clashes have engulfed the areas of Bab al-Tabbaneh, a Sunni Muslim neighborhood, and Jabal Mohsen, a neighborhood of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s coreligionists known as Alawites. Usually the clashes are related to political causes and last a couple of days. Recently however, the fighting has intensified and the usual intervention by local politicians to broker a ceasefire has gone unheeded as heavy fighting has dragged on for over a week before cooling down. Tripoli now is experiencing relative calm disrupted by the occasional sniper fire.

On Thursday the army entered into parts of Tripoli with the intension of seizing illegal arms. Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported that the LAF encountered “a warehouse of weapons containing large quantities of explosives, homemade mortar shells, rifles and ammunition, in addition to a variety of military equipment.”

NNA reported that the warehouse belongs to Ziad Alloukeh, a well-known militia leader in Bab al-Tabbaneh. Multiple sources say Alloukeh was a representative on the ground for a Member of Parliament from Tripoli named Mohammad Kabbara. In recent months though, sources say Kabbara and other politicians have lost control of figures they formerly funded in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

While sources vary as to whether it was the politicians or the street leaders who cut ties, they agree that street leaders like Alloukeh have found alternative means of funding the fight against Jabal Mohsen. With the puppet strings severed, Tripoli's politicians have turned to the LAF to restore stability to their city.

An adviser to a Tripoli MP who asked not to be identified, as he was not given clearance to speak to the media, said that all Tripoli politicians and Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest administrative Sunni Muslim body, have given the LAF their full support to enter Bab al-Tabbaneh and stop the armed men.

“If the army continues to play their role then [the fighting in Tripoli] will be finished,” said Mouin Merhabi, a member of Lebanon’s parliament who has been outspoken about inaction from the army in the past. 

But despite the army's efforts, armed men and protesters hit Tripoli's street's Thursday. The protesters expressed anger over Hezbollah's role in the Syrian regime's recapture of Qusair, a strategic town in Syria close to Lebanon’s eastern border.

Former Tripoli MP Mustafa Allouch indicated that what is happening in Tripoli will carry on for some time and is linked to larger developments in the region. “We believe there is no solution for clashes in Tripoli unless you have a major solution for what is happening in Lebanon and Syria," said Allouch.
Justin Salhani is a freelance journalist based in Beirut. He’s on Twitter @JustinSalhani

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bringing the Syrian war to Lebanon

Beirut: Qusayr's fall to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah have reignited rhetoric that armed groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could begin operations inside Lebanon.

"Hezbollah fighters are invading Syrian territory. And when they continue to do that and the Lebanese authorities don't take any action to stop them coming to Syria, I think we are allowed to fight Hezbollah fighters inside [Lebanese] territory," said General Selim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army to the BBC.

Hezbollah's involvement in Syria has drawn numerous reactions from the FSA in recent months, including threats that the FSA would march on Dahiyeh or engage Hezbollah in Lebanon. To date, none of these threats has been acted upon.

In a recent interview with a seasoned Lebanese journalist closely affiliated with Sunni Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, I was told that Jabhat al-Nusra and certain Sunnis in Lebanon are waiting to bring the war here. He said Nusra will follow Hezbollah back into Lebanon and when that happens Lebanese Sunnis will join the fight.

As the journalist said, "from central Iraq to Lebanon...the Sunni-Shiite war has started."