Lebanon: Tripoli’s Real ‘Alley’ Battle Has Yet to Begin

aris2chat

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more abuse to Lebanon and it's people

Lebanon: Tripoli?s Real ?Alley? Battle Has Yet to Begin
Gunmen attend the funeral of Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Wahed and his aide in their hometown al-Bireh, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on May 21, 2012.(Photo: AFP - Joseph Eid).

By: Ghassan Saoud [1]

Published Friday, January 24, 2014

The views expressed by Lebanese Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri in a recent TV interview reinforced among many the belief that the political accord over forming a coalition government is the culmination of regional accords. The theme of these accords – counterterrorism – will be the main if not the only item on the manifesto of Tammam Salam’s government.

The militants in the North Lebanon city of Tripoli are furious. They have been told that the Ministry of Health, since the beginning of 2014, has stopped covering their medical bills in the city’s hospitals. They are also furious because of the roughness the army showed in the last confrontation.

During that confrontation, the army, perhaps for the first time, responded violently to the source of fire, targeting the so-called “alleyway commanders” of the militants directly. The army even tried to bring in tanks to Bab al-Tabbaneh, before it named the suspects accused of assaulting its soldiers in an official statement, in what may be a hint for other security services to arrest them rather than continuing to give them cover.

Not one of them was a “full-time” fighter. Today, there is a “squadron” of militants in almost every alleyway, led by what best resembles an emir, or commander.
At the same time, the militants in Tripoli have been informed that army intelligence chief for North Lebanon, Gen. Amer al-Hassan, during a security meeting at Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s home to discuss the new round of violence, had a markedly different attitude. Hassan voiced sharp criticisms against some of those present, and made threats against the militants.

Add to this the militants’ major disillusionment with Saad Hariri, after the latter gave a green light to security services to crackdown on anyone disturbing the peace in the city. Then there’s the fact that retired General Ashraf Rifi could not be reached for the past two days, ever since Rifi called on the supporters of the “Cedar Revolution [2]” to reassess the current stage, in a message posted on the Lebanese Forces website.

The Breakdown of Tripoli’s Militants

The militants are two kinds: Salafis and non-Salafis. The city had been expecting a battle between the army and the first kind, but the most recent round was with the non-Salafis.

The consensus is that Mikat is like “Santa Claus,” he gives without return, especially since the militants cannot vote due to criminal convictions.
It is in this latter category that alleyway commanders like Abu Khalil al-Hallaq and Abu Jamal al-Nhaili can be classed. They operate behind the cemetery in Bab al-Tabbaneh, in a street commonly known in Tripoli as Captain Street. There are rumors in the city that Nhaili was behind the viral video [3] that contained threats to Hariri recently. These two commanders, like most militants operating on the front lines with Jabal Mohsen, count themselves as supporters of General Rifi.

Three years ago, the alleyway fighters did not number more than 200, and their job was to fire their weapons from the balconies of their homes at buildings in Jabal Mohsen. Not one of them was a “full-time” fighter. Today, there is a “squadron” of militants in almost every alleyway, led by what best resembles an emir, or commander.

Loyalties in the alleyways overlap. The Zahra family fighters, who are active in Bab al-Tabbaneh, are loyal to Rifi, too, and so is Emad al-Riz and many others who receive backing and encouragement from the former chief of the Internal Security Forces.

Others, like Saad Masri, who was involved in the latest round of fighting, have mixed loyalties for both Rifi and Prime Minister Mikati. Surreally, Mikati admitted in the last meeting at his home to lending financial support to Masri, but said, “I wasn’t the one who bought him a gun worth more than $60,000. I don’t know where they got all this!”

Talal Issa, another militant commander operating near Tripoli’s bazaar, also has overlapping loyalties to both Rifi and Mikati. Ziad Allouki is affiliated with Rifi, but he also makes room for the wishes of Mikati and the Karami family, as they both command considerable support in his turf.

In the district of Mankoubin [4], commanders like Tawfiq al-Shaar (Abu Mustafa) are closer to Mikati than to others. The consensus is that Mikat is like “Santa Claus,” he gives without return, especially since the militants cannot vote due to criminal convictions.

In truth, Mikati did nothing more than use money, instead of the powers of his office, to buy these militants off. While this is bad, others have done worse things. Others have created, trained, and armed the comprehensive – though chaotic – paramilitary structure that exists today in Tripoli.

For years, these Salafi militants have strapped explosive belts around their waists, but they do not have access to the kind of funding or advanced weaponry as their comrades in the “alleyway squadrons.”
In private meetings, MP Walid Jumblatt has said that his attacks against the Information Branch followed this security agency’s collusion with what he called “the madness in Tripoli.” The Information Branch was headed by Chaim Araji, until Rifi suspected the latter was collaborating with Mikati, and replaced him with Mohammed Arab, an officer fully loyal to Rifi.

The Salafi Militants

It follows from the above that the non-Salafi militants are not a real danger. Indeed, if the Future Movement decides in earnest to de-escalate, then Rifi can pacify them just as fast as he can mobilize them. But if there is no decision to de-escalate, then Rifi will not order them to stand down, and the army will not seriously crack down on them. The farce of the past three years will just continue.

Instead, the real battle, in the event a decision is made to “cleanse” Tripoli, would take place between the army and the takfiri elements in the Salafi camp. In the last round of fighting, this faction stayed put, and did not fire a single bullet. We are not talking here about Salafi clerics like Bilal Duqmaq, Dai al-Islam al-Shahhal, and Omar Fustuq – who don’t have a single fighter – but about four or five groups led by people like Ali Hajar, Hussam al-Sabbagh [5], and Firas al-Ali.

Throughout the past few days, these extremist groups restrained themselves, because, according to one activist in their ranks, they knew they would be scapegoated in the current regional political bazaar. The reason for their restraint is their fear that the army might be looking for a pretext to repeat in Tripoli what happened in Abra with the supporters of Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir.

For years, these Salafi militants have strapped explosive belts around their waists, but they do not have access to the kind of funding or advanced weaponry as their comrades in the “alleyway squadrons.” In fact, most of them are merchants and shop owners from the city.

In various discussions with them, one comes out with a strong impression that they are extremely cautious folk. So much so that they have been stringently disciplining anyone in their ranks who dares raise the banners of al-Nusra Front or other organizations designated as terror groups worldwide. Meanwhile, three specific issues dominate their calculations:

One, the presidential elections around the corner. This stirs bitter memories for them, since it was the Nahr al-Bared conflict (in their view) that had paved the way for General Michel Suleiman to Baabda. Similarly, the battle of Abra helped secure an extension of army commander Jean Kahwaji’s term, as they say.

Two, Saad Hariri is seeking to mend his image before the international community, as a moderate anti-terror figure, and as collaboration with Islamists has turned from an element of strength to an element of suspicion and censure.

A former Tripoli MP said Hariri refused to sacrifice his Islamist allies before, but that today, the impetus for this is regional and there is no room for sharing power with the Islamists. At the same time, Hariri would benefit from not being directly in power to keep his distance from any potential consequences for the liquidation of yesterday’s allies.

Three, there is a 180-degree shift in the Shia attitude. Seven years ago, the Shia political forces tried to draw red lines over the storming of Nahr al-Bared, but now, the Shia forces have an unrivaled enthusiasm for cracking down on extremists and destroying their nurturing environment.

There might never be a battle between the army and the extremists, which could allow the latter to expand and attract “alleyway commanders” to their side.

But if it does take place, the battle would probably see eight or nine fronts similar to the Abra front simultaneously, in addition to dozens of secondary skirmishes in other neighborhoods. This would be a bigger and more violent battle than Nahr al-Bared, given the population density and the near impossibility of evacuating non-combatants, according to one security source.

But ultimately, according to a minister in the caretaker government, success in such a battle depends on not having any foreign elements, like Palestinian factions, Syrian factions, or al-Qaeda, entering the fray. He cites the high number of Syrian refugees in the city, and the relative ease at which hundreds of them could be recruited to fight.
 
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waltky

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Syrian civil war spreading to Lebanon...
:eek:
Syria-related clashes erupt overnight in Beirut
March 23, 2014
Syria-related clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad have prompted Lebanese troops to deploy to a Beirut neighborhood to calm tensions.

Soldiers in armored personnel carriers and Humvees fanned across the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Tariq Jadideh on Sunday morning. The deployment came after rival Sunni gunmen exchanged gunfire and rocket-propelled-grenades for several hours in the area, in the worst fighting in the Lebanese capital in nearly two years.

Shaker Birjawi, head of the pro-Assad Arab Movement Party, says four of his followers were wounded in the fighting. State-run National News Agency says Birjawi's AMP fought against rival Sunni gunmen. The fighting comes after days of clashes, also related to the civil war next door in Syria, killed 25 people in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Syria-related clashes erupt overnight in Beirut - Middle East - Stripes
 
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aris2chat

aris2chat

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There have been bombings in Beirut but physical clashes shows the strain on Lebanon; demographically, economically, politically and psychologically.
More that a million syria refugees plus the palestinian refugees occupying a country of 4 million is hard on everyone there.
 

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