Fear stalks Baalbek as Lebanese clans clash

The streets of Baalbek have been in chaos over the past two days because of violent clashes between the Jaafar and Shamas clans.

Video footage released on social media showed dozens of armed men walking the streets to an inflammatory soundtrack. State security forces are conspicuous by their absence from the footage.

The two clans are spread throughout the Baalbek-Hermel region, up to the Syrian border. Both have been the source of hundreds of Hezbollah militants over the years.

The current violence was sparked by the killing of Abbas Shamas on Sunday by four members of the Jaafar clan. Abbas was the brother of two Shamas members imprisoned for the killing of Issa Ali Jaafar in 2017. Following that murder, the two clans established a wary peace agreement to prevent further bloodshed.

But following the murder on Sunday, the Jaafar clan celebrated its revenge by taking to the streets and firing missiles in the air. Governor of Baalbek Hermel Bashir Khadr told Arab News: “People were going about their normal lives. Tourists were visiting the castle and the city when the firing of automatic and missile weapons suddenly started, and this terrified people. People are already frustrated and restless as a result of the difficult economic conditions the country is going through.”

The Shamas clan retaliated to Abbas’ killing by taking up arms and calling for retaliatory action — a call which reached its peak after the victim’s funeral on Monday. As the violence increased, security forces reportedly withdrew from the city.

While Hezbollah ostensibly has control over the Baalbek-Hermel region, both the Shamas and Jaffar clans have accused Hezbollah of bias toward the other clan.

In a voice recording that has been widely circulated on social media, a member of the Jaafar clan said: “Any security incident that the Shamas clan starts in response to the killing of their son, Abbas Shamas, is a conviction of Hezbollah. Therefore, the Jaafar clan must kill any member of the Shamas clan or Hezbollah who enters Al-Sharawna neighborhood.” Al-Sharawna is recognized as the stronghold of the Jaafar clan in the city.

Baalbek residents suggested that Hezbollah stands to benefit from the current situation.

“It is tension established to create a state of fear that allows Hezbollah to control the security situation and makes resorting to Hezbollah a duty, especially in the absence of the state in the Baalbek region,” said one nonpartisan resident, who asked to remain anonymous.

Another told Arab News: “The Baalbek-Hermel region began months ago to get frustrated by Hezbollah’s control over it, which was the result of security chaos and hunger.”

“The recent crime was committed despite the reconciliation that was previously established between the two clans, which they were supposed to abide by,” they continued. “The violent response and the social media machine aim to deliver Hezbollah’s message to the people that it will remain the main incubator for the stability of the people and that it is the only one capable of maintaining calm — not the state. Hezbollah’s goal is to show that the state is weak and unable to control the streets, and therefore unable to control the borders with Syria if necessary.”

Gov. Khadr said: “The Lebanese army started on Wednesday patrolling the city of Baalbek. Communications are taking place at all political and partisan levels between Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and the officials and clans of the region to control this security development.”

The two clans issued separate statements on Tuesday evening, calling for calm and for grievances to be put before the Lebanese judiciary.

Gov. Khadr said: “This clan situation, which is out of control, does not suit the parties in the region. But as I have served in this region for seven years, I know very well that clan affiliation continues to be stronger than any other affiliation.”

He added: “What is happening affects everyone, and the most affected of all are the people who have no affiliations.”

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