Lebanon News

Fed-up Baalbeck residents distrust Machnouk plan

Vigil against violence in Baalbeck, Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BAALBECK, Lebanon: People of the east Lebanon town of Baalbeck expressed distrust at any potential security plan for the area, following comments made by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk regarding the failure of previous plans to ensure the area’s security. After a meeting with President Michel Aoun last Thursday, Machnouk said that “the measures put in place since the institution of the security plan have not been successful in protecting the lives of the citizens and their children.”

The interior minister also said that “the situation cannot continue” and vowed to pursue the matter alongside the president in order to implement elements of the security plan that had not yet been enacted. Security incidents have surged in the past month, the latest of which at the end of May involved the death of young girl hit by a stray bullet from celebratory gunfire.

Members of the community in Baalbeck expressed their discontent with the current state of affairs, which sees the region divided into “security zones,” as they are referred to by locals: areas neglected by law enforcement authorities that are controlled by clans.

The former mayor of Baalbeck, attorney Ghaleb Yaghi, told The Daily Star Friday that he appreciated Machnouk’s recognition of the ministry’s failures in regard to their responsibilities to the people of Baalbeck. “To admit one’s mistakes and [correct them] is better than never [doing so],” Yaghi said. “However, in all honesty, [the minister’s security plan] comes too late and I am afraid it will [fail] like previous versions.”

Yaghi also addressed Machnouk directly, advising him not to make promises he would not be able to keep. “Do you have the power to access [the Syrian area of] Qusair and arrest whoever is a suspect?” Yaghi asked rhetorically.

The grand mufti of Baalbeck-Hermel, Sheikh Khaled Solh, expressed distrust over any measure the government might implement, saying, “Any security plan that will be announced is destined to fail, and the greatest proof of that is that all the previous plans that were announced have fallen short of their goal.

“Machnouk will only be successful if the state lifts the lid on the traffic of weapons fueled by state licenses,” Solh told The Daily Star. “The region is heading toward undesirable consequences ... and the state with its political, security and military authorities bears full responsibility for what Baalbeck is experiencing.”

Lamis Hasan Nakkoush – the latest victim of the area’s violence, who was born in 2008 – was shot in front of her house a few minutes before iftar on May 30. Aa.W. of the Wehbe family and the victim’s brother reportedly exchanged words before the former opened fire, hitting Nakkoush in the back of her head.

The suspect instantly fled the scene, while Nakkoush was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died.

The attack was widely condemned in Baalbeck, with residents calling on officials to put an end to the area’s insecurity.

Earlier in May, Baalbeck residents went on a general strike to protest the deteriorating security situation in their city. The president of the Al-Fida Association, Hussein Solh, said that “all the steps that have been taken in the framework of the security plan have been unsuccessful in protecting the people and making their lives safer. In order for Baalbeck to retrieve peace and stability and revive trade and tourism, it must put an end to the traffic of illicit weapons as well as halt the licensing of weapons and cars that are used in various illicit activities.”

A security plan for the Bekaa Valley was revived in March. Security agencies cracked down on a number of suspects, including major drug lords. The actions prompted media reports citing the “subtle” revival of the 2015 security plan targeting Hezbollah-dominated areas.

The area has witnessed criminal acts including kidnapping, killings, car theft, and arms and drug trafficking. A previous security plan implemented in 2014 was described as a failure, given its inability to reduce the incidence of such events.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 05, 2017, on page 2.




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