Archive for August 2010
Hot town, summer in the cityBack of my neck getting dirty and grittyBeen down, isn’t it a pityDoesn’t seem to be a shadow in the cityAll around, people looking half deadWalking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
And thus begins The Lovin Spoonful’s 1966 hit song Summer in the City. It sums up Beirut pretty well right now.
It’s hot. Very hot. Power cuts are more frequent than usual and I haven’t even had water in my apartment building for 24 hours now. Now enter Ramadan to the mix, with lots of people fasting from food, drink and cigarettes for the entire day. It is one very hot summer in the city in Beirut.
Tempers are flaring. Residents of south Beirut have been burning tires protesting power cuts all month, leaving the airport road smelling of burned rubber in the mornings. Even Fatah and Hamas had a rare duel in southern Lebanon the other day at iftar. But of course, the real indication that people might be a little more touchy than usual was Tuesday night’s clashes between Hezbollah and the previously obscure Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, who seem to prefer to go by their catchier nickname al-Ahbash.
The worst fighting Beirut has seen since Hezbollah’s May 2008 takeover of West Beirut resulted in a few fatalities, including a Hezbollah military commander. The fighting garnered some heavy attention at the time and spurred fears of renewed sectarian violence in the Lebanese capital as it was Shia fighting Sunnis.
But, now it’s starting to look like the clashes were the result of a fender bender outside an iftar event or an argument over a parking space. Such seemingly benign events have the potential to explode in Lebanon. The good news is that all of this looks reactionary. An argument that got out of hand and resulted in Hezbollah moving in a ton of fighters to counter. This means that this could well be a one-off event. And luckily so – as the clashes edged east out of Bourj Abi Haider into Corniche Mazraa and eventually Barbir, they started to get into fault line neighborhoods – areas that have been powder kegs for sectarian strife in Lebanon in the past. But, nobody else jumped into the fray and things are seemingly calm as of right now.
The Lebanese Armed Forces took their sweet time getting to the clashes – showing up hours late when most of the fighting had stopped. As usual, they were less-than-enthused to stand in the middle of a gunbattle that Hezbollah was taking part in. August has been a hot and touchy month in country. Will have to see if the dropping mercury in the coming months will cool tempers.
On a side note, I’m heading to Egypt tomorrow on a reporting trip for two weeks. Should be a nice reprieve from a Levantine summer without electricity and now water.
As promised, a few pictures of Hezbollah’s “educational park” at Mlita in southern Lebanon which I blogged about a while back. I’m bad at getting my own photos up on the site for two reasons:
1. I have incredibly bad luck with cameras in this country. To date, I’ve had two nicked off me in country, one at gunpoint. Thus, I usually just travel with a pen, steno book and voice recorder.
2. The internet in Lebanon is horrible. It took over an hour to upload these.
That said, I’ll try my best to get some more photos uploaded in the future, Inshallah.
Today saw the Lebanese-Israeli divide at the Blue Line break into violence for the first time in a long time. There have been the occasional rockets fired from Lebanon by random groups at times since the 2006 war, but this has clearly been the biggest outbreak in the last four years.
Details are still murky. UNIFIL is currently trying to get a handle of what has happened down there. It appears that several Lebanese citizens – three soldiers and a journalist from Al Akhbar – have died in the fighting and there are reports of an Israeli officer KIA. Feed from the TV which I’ve been glued to all day showed thick fighting on the Lebanese road that skirts the Blue Line and Israeli security road between the villages of Addaiseh and Kfar Kila. UNIFIL soldiers could be seen ducking for cover alongside journalists under very audible machinegun fire. Also shown were Merkava tanks on the security road and Lebanese soldiers armed with RPGs.
It will take a while to figure out exactly what has happened today as the reports are still filtering in.
The real sticking issue though, revolves around whether Katyusha rockets were launched against Israel today (as reported earlier) or if this was the result of tense nerves over the Israelis allegedly trying to uproot a tree on Lebanese soil. If it is the former, this could get worse.
I was going to blog a little bit earlier, talking about how when there is a situation in say, Gaza, it could lead to quite real problems on Israel’s other tense borders. Yesterday we saw militants launch rockets at Eilat, apparently from the Sinai, seemingly in retaliation for the weekend’s violence in the Gaza Strip. What happens in Gaza, in short, has the propensity to make people act in other places – do do things, like fire rockets, that they wouldn’t have necessarily otherwise done. Did this just happen in Lebanon?
Of course, Israel’s last war on Lebanon came in a cycle of violence that began with the June 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit by Hamas. Israel subsequently began operations against the Gaza Strip and in July Hezbollah eventually launched its own operation to capture Israeli soldiers, kicking off the war.
Last night was the first time since Friday that Gaza didn’t see violence. But, to keep up to date on the situation over that way follow the excellent reports from my buddy Theo May on twitter or at his blog.
Nasrallah is speaking tonight at 7 PM Beirut time, should have some interesting things to say.
Israelis have been denying that katyusha rockets landed in northern Israel today. UNIFIL has no information on possible rockets neither does Lebanese media. So it’s looking like today was just an extremely rare skirmish between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the IDF.