Conflict & Justice

Hezbollah claims to be fighting in Syria to protect Lebanon. But the result is violence in Lebanon

Hezb_IMG_0199 copy.jpg

A Beirut artist participates in an event staged by a municipality controlled by Hezbollah to honor those killed in a wave of car bombings in Lebanon.

Credit:

Susannah George

In Bir Hassan, a neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs, about a dozen artists have set up makeshift easels in a traffic circle. Speakers blast music from the back of a truck as a handful of people mill about. 

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

This is an event to honor those killed in a recent wave of car bombings in Lebanon and it is organized by the local municipality, which is run by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group first formed to do battle with Israel, has been fighting in Syria for several months alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces. Hezbollah says that by acting in Syria, they’re trying to keep the war from spilling over into Lebanon.

But earlier this year, a wave of car bombs rocked Lebanon, killing dozens. Those who claimed responsibility for the attacks said they were targeting Hezbollah, as payback for the group's involvement in Syria.

"My Name is Khariyya Muhammed Az-Adeen," says a woman dressed in black, standing off to the sidelines at the event. "Mother of the martyr Abduallah Az-Adeen," she announces. 

People here in Beirut’s southern suburbs often use the word martyr to describe Hezbollah fighters killed in battle against Israel and, more recently, in Syria. Posters and banners of the martyrs are plastered on storefronts and hang at intersections here. 

But Az-Adeen's son is different. He wasn’t a Hezbollah fighter, and there are no posters for him. He was killed in a car bombing at the Iranian cultural center just across the street. 

The al-Qaeda linked “Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades” claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to Hezbollah and Iran's support for President Assad. 

"My heart is still burning with grief for my son," Az-Adeen says, but she doesn’t blame Hezbollah for her son's death. "Hezbollah does good work and they've helped my family. I'm thankful for that," she says, tearfully. 

This statement wouldn't be surprising if Az-adeen were a Shia Muslim — the backbone of Hezbollah's support in Lebanon. But Az-adeen is Sunni, a sect in Lebanon that has traditionally been hostile to Hezbollah and its allies.

When Hezbollah first started sending fighters into Syria’s civil war, the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, spoke directly to supporters. He said, we're in Syria to protect you — meaning the Lebanese Shia population along Lebanon's border. 

But over time, Nasrallah has broadened his message. 

"He can’t speak just to the Shia in his speeches," says Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, adding that Nasrallah now warns of a terrorist threat to all of Lebanon — not just the Shia.

"The whole of Lebanon is being affected by what’s happening in Syria, so he does emphasize very much the point that the Takfiris are a threat to everyone," Blanford says, using the Arabic term to describe Sunni extremists like al-Qaeda. 

Despite the rhetoric, there are still many Lebanese who blame Hezbollah for the unrest, saying the group invited the violence into Lebanon.      

But Az-Adeen, whose son was killed, brushes away criticism of Hezbollah. She says she thinks that by fighting in Syria, Hezbollah is preventing more violence. She says it's the Lebanese government that should be doing more. 

"It’s the government's responsibility to take care of the innocent," she says.

The Lebanese army is taking steps to restore security by launching raids within Lebanon abd targeting gangs and militias with links to Syria. The government has made it clear that this does not include Hezbollah. In fact, the army and Hezbollah have worked together to coordinate some of the operations. 

But critics say that unless the government does more to confiscate weapons and make arrests, any quieting of the violence will be temporary at best.

  • Hezb_IMG_0162 copy.jpg

    A painting of a weeping mother created at an event in Bir Hassan, Beirut honoring those killed by the recent wave of car bombs in Lebanon. This event, staged by a municipality controlled by Hezbollah, was held just across the street from the scene of one such attack: the Iranian Cultural Center. A car, partially destroyed by the blast, was also decorated by local artists.

    Credit:

    Susannah George