By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BEIRUT, Lebanon – Armed militias engaged in an intense four-hour firefight in the streets of Beirut after a dispute arose over a parking space. The fighting pitted Hezbollah, an Iranian backed governmental organization many consider to be a terrorist group, against a rival militia. The fighting left 3 dead and 11 others wounded. Civilians recall snipers running through the streets and rocket propelled grenades being shot around a Beirut neighborhood. Ten people have since been arrested for their involvement in the clash.
This outbreak in violence however, is not an isolated incident and the recent rise in hostilities between armed militias in Lebanon has received international attention. Earlier today the United Nations voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, for at least another year. UNIFIL currently operates approximately 12,000 troops in southern Lebanon. Although UNIFIL’s primary mandate is to deter encroachment over the blue line between Israel and Lebanon, it recognizes that internal disputes within Lebanon may raise tensions between the two nations.
Nadim Houry, the Beirut director at Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press that many “people still in this country have RPGs in their homes.” This fact allows street clashes to escalate quickly, threatening the lives of many civilians. General Jean Kahwaji, in a statement to As-Safir, reports that the government will continue army operations in southern Beirut in order maintain peace. General Kahwaji notes “what is important is that no one ignite a fire and then demand the army put it out.” The Lebanese army has stepped up operations in Beirut in order to address fears surrounding the outbreak of another civil war in the country.
The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, has also repeated his call for militias to disarm. The United States has already temporarily suspend $100 million of military aid money to the Lebanese government to support its ill-equipped army in response to concerns that Mr. Hariri is not doing enough disarm militias in his nation. The Prime Minister stated that he will continue to examine an additional “series of measures.”
It is unlikely however, that Mr. Hariri’s order will be heeded. Hezbollah is not only the largest militia in Lebanon, obtaining both financial assistance and arms from Iran, but it also is a party of the Lebanese government and has veto power. Even Prime Minister Hariri himself notes that his call for a “weapons free” Lebanon does not apply to Hezbollah. Although there is wide popular support for Hariri’s attempts to disarm Lebanese militias, many still support Hezbollah and rely on services provided by the organization. Until a more comprehensive security arrangement can be agreed upon, the nation will likely continue to be the victim of internal violence.
For more information, please see;
Daily Star Lebanon – Higher Defense Council Vows to increase Security Measures – 1 Sept. 2010
Daily Star Lebanon – UNIFIL to Maintain Troop Numbers After Clashes in South – 1 Sept. 2010
Agence France Presse – 10 Held Over Beirut Clash as government Mulls Arms Control – 31 Aug. 2010
Associated Press – Armed Militias: A Quandary for Lebanon, U.S. – 31 Aug. 2010