Lebanon News

Hezbollah hands over security of Beirut suburb to Lebanese forces

Hezbollah members, left, retreat as they make way for Lebanese soldiers to take control of a checkpoint in Beirut's southern suburbs, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BURJ AL BARAJNEH, Lebanon: Hezbollah turned over dozens of checkpoints in and around the southern suburbs Monday to the police and Army in line with the Interior Ministry’s security plan as Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called on residents to fully cooperate with security forces.

Most local residents who spoke to The Daily Star welcomed the deployment of hundreds of security and Army personnel in the area, which has been targeted by two car bombs since July.

“Anything that improves security is a good thing,” said Ibrahim, a taxi driver who lives in the suburbs and declined to give his last name.

Nadine Matar, a local resident of Burj al-Barajneh, called the new security measures “very good,” but admitted that she felt safer with Hezbollah in charge of security.

“Of course the party is stricter than them [the security forces and Army],” she said.

“When the state takes responsibility for citizens’ security, this means things are working as they should,” said a young man on a scooter who wished to remain anonymous.

The young motorist admitted the traffic caused by checkpoints was irritating, but did not see an alternative in light of the risk. He sidestepped a question about whether local residents were happy to see the state take over security from Hezbollah. “They’ll get used to it,” he said with a shrug.

According to official security sources, over 1,000 personnel from the Internal Security Forces, General Security and Army have been deployed as part of the plan, which aims to replace Hezbollah’s own security measures which were put in place following a string of attacks targeting the southern suburbs.

The deployment is the largest of its kind since Lebanon’s Civil War.

Hezbollah has come under fire from critics for enforcing “self security” especially after several individuals were detained at Hezbollah checkpoints. Party officials have struck back in recent days, publicly lauding the new security plan and defending the party’s decision to mobilize to protect areas under its control.

Nasrallah praised the deployment and urged residents to cooperate fully with authorities in their mission.“Hezbollah greatly welcomes this move [the security deployment] and appreciates this national decision that state officials have taken,” Nasrallah said during a televised speech Monday night.

“We hope the state can always fulfill its legal and national duties in all cities, towns and governorates in Lebanon,” he added.

“I call on all residents of the southern suburbs and those who come to it or pass through to exercise the highest levels of cooperation ... and ... show respect to the measures and checkpoints of these security personnel and provide all the help and support to them in fulfilling their mission,” Nasrallah said.

He repeated the assertion that the state’s inability to provide protection was what had prompted Hezbollah’s security measures, striking back against accusations of “self-security,” particularly from the Future Movement.

“The facts today show the accusations of these groups to be false. If Hezbollah was insistent on employing self-security, it would not welcome and cooperate [with the deployment of the security force],” Nasrallah said.“We also oppose self-security: This is not part of our culture and was never part of our political program.”

Charbel appeared to back Hezbollah’s claims that it was acting out of necessity in comments made to reporters Monday. “Was Hezbollah comfortable operating checkpoints? I was in contact with them, and they were not comfortable; some tension was beginning to surface between them and the citizens who live in the suburbs,” he said. “[Hezbollah] filled a vacuum that existed at a certain time due to our inability as the Lebanese state to fulfill our duties.”

Charbel was speaking from the ISF headquarters in Ouzai, where he stopped by to offer his personal support to several hundred personnel gathered there in preparation for the deployment, which started around 6 p.m. and was completed by 9.

March 14 politicians voiced skepticism about the move. Future Movement official Mustafa Alloush described the deployment of security forces as a “charade,” suggesting that there was no guarantee that the measures would last.

“These security measures are happening consensually under the will of Hezbollah, which means that they could be over consensually,” Alloush said.

“The limitations of this plan are designed by Hezbollah in coordination with the Lebanese state,” he said.

But Charbel said the presence of police and Army sent a clear signal to the public that “the state has not forsaken you,” adding: “It is our duty to protect any region under threat.”

Charbel denied the state was late to take action, blaming the lack of resources for the delay. In the short term, he explained, the extra manpower would be drawn from reservists called in to fill the administrative jobs left behind by security personnel serving in the field.

Charbel also responded to criticism that the state was giving preferential treatment to Hezbollah-controlled areas over Tripoli, which was struck by deadly twin bombings last month after being plagued by sporadic clashes for the past two years.

“Tripoli is a different case than the southern suburbs,” said Charbel, who blamed “political disputes” among Tripoli’s many factions for thwarting a comprehensive security plan. “In the southern suburbs, you only need to speak to two or three people, but in Tripoli there are many figures who say one thing publicly but under the table [are working against] our military presence on the ground.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 24, 2013, on page 1.

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