Lebanon News

Al-Qaa undaunted in wake of terror attacks

Women carry arms in the northeastern village of Al-Qaa.

AL-QAA, Lebanon: None of the eight explosions that rocked Al-Qaa Tuesday has shaken residents’ determination to stay put and defend their homes, many locals said. Although the terrorist attacks Monday left five of Al-Qaa’s people dead and a further 28 wounded, the village’s faith has not wavered a local resident from the Matar family. “Saint Elie defended those who were in the church,” said Matar, referring to one of the evening blasts near the St. Elie Church that did not lead to any deaths.

Matar also said that Al-Qaa’s people will not give up an inch of land because it is “mixed with their sweat and blood.”

“We are from Al-Qaa, we are Lebanese, and we are telling the terrorists to leave us alone; there is no place for them among us,” she told The Daily Star, requesting support from the Lebanese government and the Army.

The sheer number of suicide bombers Monday left citizens in shock, with many unanswered questions. Confusion heightened over whether Al-Qaa was being targeted directly or simply used as a stepping stone for targets further into Lebanon that were thwarted when a local father and son exposed the terrorists. There is much speculation among locals and no clear answers have yet been provided by the authorities.

Early Tuesday morning, locals – including a number of women – came out heavily armed in a show of force and defiance, under the watchful eye of the Lebanese Army despite calls for calm and attempts to discourage the move. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Baalbek Gov. Bashir Khodr’s issued a curfew on Syrian nationals in Al-Qaa and Ras Baalbek areas.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaa Mayor Bachir Matar said he believed the village was specifically targeted because it stood against terrorism. Matar spoke of the responsibility of protecting residents against such violent attacks through coordinating with citizens, the Army and security forces.

He urged people to stay in their homes and be vigilant for suspicious individuals. “We are not bypassing the Lebanese Army when we defend ourselves, we are on their side. This does not necessarily mean taking up arms, even though most of the village’s people have hunting weapons they can use,” he told The Daily Star. According to Matar and local priest Elian Nasrallah, funerals were postponed for security in light of Monday night’s developments.

Local MP Marwan Fares told reporters in the village that he was sure Al-Qaa would endure, as it did during the Civil War, with the support of the resistance and the Army.

The parliamentarian also called on locals not to blame local Syrian refugee families living in camps near Al-Qaa valley for the attacks, branding it as “unacceptable.”

“Al-Qaa’s people own vast agricultural lands that employ 7,000 Syrian workers, cultivating the land would not be possible without them,” he said. “Some visitors took political stances that do not reflect the history of Al-Qaa. We are the original inhabitants of the village and we will persevere with our allegiance to the Army and resistance,” Fares added.

However, Nasrallah did not believe the targeting of Al-Qaa began Monday. He said that it stemmed from local instability caused by the 5-year-old Syrian conflict and the presence of armed terrorists in the Lebanese mountains nearby. “Terrorists are working on linking Qusair to Homs, and occupying Al-Qaa, Ras Baalbek, Arsal, Hermel and Akkar, to set up their state of terror,” he said. “Targeting Al-Qaa is an attack on all of Lebanon; those who lost their lives sacrificed their blood for Lebanon and are a symbol of Al-Qaa and Lebanon’s unity.”

Nasrallah praised the ongoing humanitarian assistance to refugees in the country, but said there was fear that the presence of the camps have become a security threat. “We call on the government to relocate them from Al-Qaa and Lebanon.”

However, when it comes to Syrian labor, Nasrallah said that the government should complete all legal procedures so that they can enter and work in Lebanon legally.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 29, 2016, on page 2.

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