[News] Lebanon - Street Notes from the Hamra District

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 9 12:57:45 EDT 2008

May 9, 2008

A Wild Day in Beirut

Street Notes from the Hamra District



"Where did they come from?", the desk clerk at 
the Royal Plaza Hotel in Rauche by the sea near 
Hamra wondered out loud. "I have been on duty all 
night and saw nothing. Suddenly they are everywhere!"

Of course this observer wondered the same thing. 
The time was around 8:30 am, having ducked into 
the Hotel to escape a flash shower before the sunny morning returned.

This observer left Haret Hreik neighborhood in 
Dahiyeh by motorcycle around 6:45 am this morning 
and headed toward the airport road near the 
Jnah/Ouzai round-about. Dahiyeh is quiet. 
Essentially normal. (Around 1 pm returning from 
Hamra I did notice that none of the Haret Hreik 
guys were playing football at the local athletic 
fields­it dawned on me where they were).

After some Hezbollah guys cut a path for me 
through one of the earthen berms which block the 
airport road I decided to see how far I could get 
to Hamra along the sea road past the Coral Beach 
Hotel, Ramlet el Baida and to the Corniche below 
the American University of Beirut. No traffic all 
the way and few signs of life along the sea. When 
I returned nearly four hours later by the same 
route, Hezbollah and Amal were all along this route.

According to the Hezbollah people manning the 
berms on airport road, the airport will stayed 
closed until the 'three conditions" are met;  i.e 
the pro-US government pledges to keep its hands 
off the optic fiber telecommunication network of 
the Resistance; the Government reinstates head of 
Beirut Airport Security General Wafiq Shouqair; 
and the Majority agrees to a dialogue. Until that 
happens, West Beirut and the airport will stay closed.

Just opposite the Movenpick Hotel on the water I 
cut up a side street leading into Hamra. 
Unbeknownst to me at the time I nearly drove 
through this morning’s fire fight near Saad 
Hariri's mansion. The very loud noise and the 
rain forced me back to the Royal Plaza where I 
bumped into two Middle East Airline crew who said 
MEA told them no flights will leave until at 
least Saturday. "The company is negotiating with 
their insurance people who insist they do not 
fly. If someone fires a single rocket at the airport it will stay closed".
For the next nearly four hours I toured Hamra (on 
one of a dozen moving vehicles I saw the whole time).

What I learned was that all of West Beirut is 
occupied and shut down by Hezbollah and Amal 
forces. One of the benefits of living in Dahiyeh 
is that one becomes recognized and so I was given 
relatively free passage. Fairly candid 
conversation was assured because of the roughly 
70 groups of Hezbollah fighters I saw nearly 
every third one had someone who recognized me.

Stopping in front of Robert Fisk's third floor 
Corniche flat and noticing his veranda door open 
I knew he was in town. I shouted, "Yala Robert?" 
"Robert?" No answer. His landlord, who runs the 
snack shop below appeared and told me Fisk had 
left a few minutes before and headed east. That 
guy is never around when you need to see him! No 
doubt reporting from somewhere at the center of 
the action. Just like in 1982 during the siege of 
Beirut the only journalists I encounter actually 
on the streets when things are 'hot' are French 
reporters from Agence France Press with crash 
helmets and flak jackets. "Just watch out for 
snipers", they advised, "Geagea's men killed a 
woman and her son last night." How they knew is 
was Geagea's men in the dark, I don't know.

The AFP fellows also reported that Hariri's 
Al-Mustaqbal newspaper and his radio station Al 
Sharq were closed by Hezbollah fighters.

The situation as of 1 p.m. May 9:
    * Hezbollah and their Amal allies control the 
geography from the airport up to Hamra and around 
the Corniche sea road at far as the Beirut Port 
near Phalange HQ in East Beirut. It appears 
secured including Verdun, Karolol Druze (Bristol 
Hotel area), Zaendaniyeh, Ras-al-Nabaa, Basta, 
and Neweiri. They do not appear to be meeting 
much opposition although some arms are fired periodically.

Hezbollah appears in complete control of West Beirut.
    * According to the guys manning the Berms on 
airport road the airport will stayed closed until 
the 'three conditions' are met i.e the pro-US 
government pledges to keep its hands off the 
optic fiber telecommunication network of the 
Resistance, the Government reinstates head of 
Airport Security Wafiq Shouqair, and agrees to a 
dialogue. Until that happens, West Beirut and the Airport will stay closed.
    * This observer was amazed to see and learn 
that Hezbollah/Amal also are deployed all over 
Mt. Lebanon. Approaching a Druze area, near the 
Kamal Jumblatt Hospital in Choufeit close to 1 
p.m. today I turned down a side road to make a 
telephone call at one of the phone shops. I was 
shocked to see approximately 80 heavily armed 
fighters. "Oh”, I thought to myself, “finally I 
see Jumblatt's militia." As I pulled up to the 
phone store several fighters approached my 
motorcycle­which is well known in Dahiyeh. 
"Habibee!", one young man called as he put his 
free arm around me. Turns out he is a neighbor of 
mine from Harek Hreik. "What are you doing here 
with PSP (Druze militia?)", I lamely ask. "No, 
no, we are all Hezbollah and Amal here!

How is that possible in Jumblatt territory? 
"Khalas, there is no Jumblatt territory! We and 
our friends are all throughout the mountains. We 
are ready to fight both the Zionists and anyone 
else who wants to fight us. But we are told that 
in four or five days there may be a solution 
without violence." Thinking the kid might be 
hungry and homesick for our 'hood', I offered him 
a sandwich I purchased from our neighborhood 
Halifee Restaurant. He declines and points toward 
a stack of boxed supplies, presumably including military rations.

The four or five day estimation of stalemate and 
status quo I was to hear several times today from 
various Hezbollah and Amal military leaders.

Riding around West Beirut from roughly 8:30 to 
close to one pm one sees mainly Hezbollah and 
Amal. Around Hariri's mansion, the Quoreitim 
which was hit by a RPG– there is an assortment of 
fighters who appear to be "contractors". There 
was a gun battle around 10:30 am near it. Some of 
Hariri's guys expressed disgust that some of 
their fellow Mustaqbal militiamen surrendered to 
Hezbollah without a fight and also told of their 
contempt with about 60 or more "fighters" who 
came down as 'reinforcements' from North Lebanon 
to receive $400 monthly payments for "security 
work". Apparently when the young men arrived 
yesterday day they were informed by Hariri people 
that they would be fighters. As one told a local 
TV station, "That is not our job. I am not a 
fighter and I am not going to fight Hezbollah!" 
This morning those who did not leave last night are heading north this morning.

Little sign of the Lebanese army except by Lina's 
Restaurant near Bliss St. in front of AUB and 
below AUB. Others are laying low under awnings of 
some Hamra shops. I am told they are near the 
port and staying out of deep Hamra.

Virtually all shops in Hamra are shuttered

After a while, one is able to distinguish in 
Hamra the difference between Amal and Hezbollah 
fighters from a block away. The former tend to be 
smaller, more thin, randomly dressed and 
sometimes hooded, a bit unkempt, fun-loving and 
happy to pose for photos and joke. Hezbollah by 
contrast are polite but all business with an 
obvious command structure and a tested 
professionalism. Several this morning look 
surprised at seeing someone riding around the 
area and advised: "Please go to your home. We don't know what will happen".

As in the July 2006 war, one gets the impression 
that Hezbollah fighters prefer to depend on each 
other and fight in small groups and not hang 
around with Palestinians, Marxists etc. or even 
Amal fighters in close proximity. (There are no 
Palestinians to my knowledge involved in the current 'situation').

Around 10:30 am I came upon some fighters who 
said they were from the Syrian Social Nationalist 
Party. (Frankly I had not realized they were 
still around). They appeared to keep to themselves.

Hezbollah guys' attitude is sort of: "Excuse us 
but could you take up positions a little distance 
from us, maybe down over there somewhere?" The 
message is clear: "Look, we know what we are dong 
and we are not sure that you do. You can endanger 
us by hanging around us. We would be grateful if 
you would do your thing somewhere removed from our location!"

Jumblatt has not just been humiliated in the 
mountains but also in his Beirut residence at 
Clemenceau near AUB. When I drove by en route to 
Hamra Street I saw about 75 fighters outside his 
home. I was surprised to learn they were not 
Jumblatt's protectors but once more 
Hezbollah/Amal. "Maybe he will invite us to 
lunch. We have orders not to harm him." I was 
later to learn that the Army rescued Jumblatt 
around 11:30 am, and he is said to be rethinking 
his options. Hassan Nasrallah was tough on 
Jumblatt at his news conference yesterday and 
predicted that Jumblatt would switch sides yet 
again if Hezbollah would pay the price. The young 
men showed me some of the weapons they collected 
from what was said to be surrendering or fleeing Hariri mercenaries.

Word on the Street near Saad Hariri's house is 
that Geagea may attempt a coup and take the 
leadership of March 14 for a return of the 
Lebanese Forces and Kateib. This I find difficult 
to believe but during this period the rumors are 
flying like 20th floor broadcast confetti on a windy day!

It is difficult to avoid the tentative conclusion 
as of the moment that Hezbollah owns Lebanon and 
will not be dislodged by force. Again they insist 
that all they want is a fair share of the 
government and have no interest in "owning" 
Lebanon. They just are not willing to accept 
interference with their resistance activities against Israel.

While Michael Young, opinion editor of Beirut's 
Daily Star and one of Lebanon's best political 
analysts argues today that Hezbollah wants a Shia 
state within the Lebanese State, Hezbollah denies this.

It appears in order to calm the atmosphere in 
Lebanon right now and remove the berms of July 
2006 rubble blocking the airport road as well as 
the evacuation of fighters from West Beirut and 
the Mountains, the Bush administration must order 
the reversal of Monday's Lebanese Cabinet 
decisions. It is widely believed that they 
ordered them and are responsible to reverse them 
and to accept a dialogue with the Opposition.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and 
can be reached at <mailto:fplamb at gmail.com>fplamb at gmail.com

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/news_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20080509/c1f82c0a/attachment.html>

More information about the News mailing list