Attacks against Lebanese Alawites Deepen Fears

  • W460
  • W460

Lebanese members of the Syrian leader's Alawite sect fear their tiny community will be a casualty of the civil war raging in the neighboring country.

Already, Sunni Muslim extremists have stoned a school bus, vandalized stores and beaten or stabbed a number of men in a wave of attacks against Lebanese Alawites, stoking fears of even more violence should Syrian President Bashar Assad be removed from power.

In one particularly humiliating case, angry Sunnis tied a rope around an Alawite man's neck and dragged him around the streets of Tripoli.

"The Alawites are being subjected to an organized campaign that aims to eliminate them on all levels," said Ali Feddah, a prominent member of the Arab Democratic Party, which is mainly Alawite.

Feddah spoke to The Associated Press in his office in Tripoli's predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. Sitting next to a picture of Assad, he said the Alawites face an "existential threat," mainly because of extremist Sunni incitement against them.

His words echo the sentiments of many Alawites, who have long enjoyed privileges in Syria under Assad family rule and now fear for their future. The tiny community in Lebanon, which has long been a Syrian client state, has also benefited from Assad's rule, particularly during Syria's three-decade hold on its smaller neighbor that ended in 2005.

The Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, represents little more than 10 percent of the population in Syria and about 2 percent in Lebanon. Before their ascent in the mid-20th century, the Alawites were impoverished and marginalized, largely confined to the mountains of the province of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.

Under the French mandate, the Alawites were granted an autonomous territory stretching in a band along the coast from the Lebanese border to the Turkish border. It lasted a few years until 1937, when their state was incorporated into modern-day Syria.

After the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power in Damascus, Alawites began consolidating their presence in the Syrian government and armed forces.

The uprising against Assad's rule that began in March 2011 quickly became an outlet for long-suppressed grievances, mostly by poor Sunnis from marginalized areas. It has since escalated into an outright civil war.

Many of the rebels trying to overthrow Assad today say they want to replace his government with an Islamic state.

The war, now in its third year, has turned increasingly sectarian with countless cases of tit-for-tat slayings between Sunnis and Alawites. Sunni rebels are often seen in videos posted online referring to Alawites as dogs and heretics.

Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the central Syrian city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said the Assad regime has carried out massacres against Sunnis. He points to waves of sectarian killings this month, allegedly carried out by pro-government Alawite gunmen in the coastal towns of Banias and Bayda. More than 100 civilians were killed in the attacks.

"We will completely wipe out the Alawite sect," said al-Homsi, who does not use his real name because of fear of government reprisals. "There will be no Alawites in Syria. The young and the old will be punished."

Bassam al-Dada, an official in the rebels' Free Syrian Army, disagrees with al-Homsi. "The Alawites have nothing to do with Bashar's crimes," he said.

The U.N. estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the war. Human Rights activists say most of them are Sunnis, but Alawites have also paid a heavy price. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday the group has documented the names of more than 35,000 Alawites who have died, most of them soldiers and pro-Assad militiamen.

"Their losses statistically are very high. There is a lot of resentment in Alawite regions," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University in Beirut.

The tensions in Syria are playing out in Lebanon, which is sharply split along sectarian lines and has recently seen repeated bouts of street fighting related to the war across the border.

Northern Lebanon, in particular, is a potential powder keg. It has a strong Sunni population but also has pockets of Alawites.

The Alawites live mainly in Jabal Mohsen, a hilly district where posters of Assad and his father and predecessor, the late Hafez Assad, decorate the streets.

For years, residents of Jabal Mohsen have traded short bouts of automatic weapons fire and volleys of rocket-propelled grenades with residents of the mainly Sunni Bab Tabbaneh neighborhood.

The two districts in Tripoli are separated by a roadway named Syria Street.

The clashes have become more frequent since Syria's uprising began — and so have the targeted attacks.

Ali, an unemployed 25-year-old Alawite from Jabal Mohsen, says he has not been to Sunni neighborhoods of Tripoli for more than a year after he was beaten up in the central Tal neighborhood.

Ali, who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals, described how he was intercepted by a man who ran toward him, grabbed him by the neck and tried to choke him as he shouted: "Are you from the Jabal?"

He said he denied he was an Alawite and was eventually saved by a Sunni man who knew him.

Last month, a bus carrying school children was attacked on the edge of Jabal Mohsen by a group of extremists who pelted it with rocks for several minutes before troops intervened.

"Since then, all school buses from Jabal Mohsen are accompanied by troops," Feddah said.

Residents say several men have been stabbed and beaten up in the past few weeks. Several shops in Jabal Mohsen were set on fire, their fronts seen shuttered on a recent visit.

Earlier this month, bearded extremists grabbed a Syrian man in Tripoli, beat him up and stripped him to the waist before tying a rope around his neck and parading him through the streets. "I am an Alawite shabih," they wrote on his bare chest, in reference to widely feared pro-Assad militiamen who fight alongside soldiers in Syria.

In Syria, thousands of Alawites have left their homes in war-shattered cities such as Homs, for the relative safety of the overwhelmingly Alawite provinces of Tartous and Latakia.

Syrian opponents of Assad say Alawite fighters are trying to carve out a breakaway enclave in the country's mountainous Alawite heartland by driving out local Sunnis. They say recent killings in overwhelmingly Sunni villages close to Alawite communities are meant to lay the groundwork.

Earlier this month, regime forces from nearby Alawite areas were blamed for killing dozens of civilians in Banias and Bayda, two Sunni communities in western Syria. The violence bore a closer resemblance to two reported mass killings last year in Houla and Qubeir, Sunni villages surrounded by Alawite towns in central Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper that having failed to control the entire country, Assad was now executing his "plan B" — which involves opening up an Alawite corridor between central Syria and Lebanon and driving Sunnis away from the area.

"There is an effort to cleanse the region," Davutoglu said in the interview, published last week. "This will cause turmoil in Lebanon too. It could cause a culture of revenge."

Comments 20
Thumb lebanon_first 15 May 2013, 07:41

attacks are not because he is alawite. Attacks are because he is from jabal mohsen which is at "war" with bab el tebbaneh.
Time for all to give up their weapons and everything will be fine.

Thumb primesuspect 15 May 2013, 19:22

you're a saint. Santa Flamethrower.

Missing helicopter 16 May 2013, 05:15

Mowaten you interpreted lebanon_first statement wrongly (I think). If people and parties had no weapons (and yes that also include almoqawama al-islameya)then those that stoned the bus caqn be easily apprehended by the ISF. On the other hand with weapons and heavy weapons all over the country even the army is incapable of resolving matters such as this one and they resort to calming minds and reaching security by temporary handshaking deals.

Missing helicopter 16 May 2013, 05:17

But normal to you is not enough for the rest of us dear F.T.
Normal to us means no weapons except in the hands of ISF and army period. Whether it is tripoli or Jounieh, Dahye or Nabateyye same rule for all.

Thumb geha 15 May 2013, 08:26

Lebanon first is correct
these guys of jabal Mohsen played the wrong hand by associating themselves with the Syrian regime and hizbushaitan, doing their dirty work in Tripoli, turning the city into a disaster.
they are starting to realize what it will mean if and when the Syrian regime falls.
their best way out, to redeem themselves is to surrender their weapons to the army and put themselves under the Lebanese law.
otherwise... they will pay a dear price.

Missing -karim_m1 15 May 2013, 08:54

LOL, Al Qaeda sympathizers justifying the actions of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.

Missing maroun 15 May 2013, 10:08

all traitors should be attacked,including you see the pictures the Syrian flag and the other of Assad..maybe they should move to Syria and take you with them ..

Missing maroun 15 May 2013, 13:41

we are not talking about a football match here we are talking about putting another flag above your countries any other country they call them traitors.....

Missing maroun 15 May 2013, 13:44

and that makes you a traitor mowaten...for the record ..when push comes to shove ...people like you wouldn't want to stand in my way..

Thumb geha 15 May 2013, 15:30

what is wrong with you guys? whenever someone says: relinquish your weapons and put yourself under the protection of the law you start shouting and insulting!
are we not living in a country that has security and armed forces? should all Lebanese citizens fall under the law or not? is there any of you really wanting this militias era to remain as is or even increase to the extreme so that it will explode one day into a bloody civil war?
you are pathetic guys....

Missing helicopter 16 May 2013, 05:21

I am sure karim what you meant to say (but did not finish) is Alqaeda sympathizers should be shipped to Yemen, KSA sympathizers to Riyad, Syria sympathizers to Syria and Iran's sympathizers to Tehran. Then sit back and imagine how heavenly Lebanon can become. Thanks for starting the thought for me.

Missing maroun 16 May 2013, 10:21

FT only reply when the conversation involves yourself...oops i forget you identify yourself as a traitor like your demented general and Hizb

Thumb justice 15 May 2013, 08:38

When these thugs and their mafia leaders stand up and declare their loyalty to Assad and arm themselves to the teeth (Thanks to Hizb of mercenaries) and antagonize their neighbors while bragging about the massacres they and the Assad regime committed during the civil war, then they should not cry wolf now. As you sow so shall you reap......

Missing maroun 15 May 2013, 13:48

the1phoenix..i totally agree with you..

Thumb benzona 15 May 2013, 15:12

The time has come for the Alawites to pack their stuff and move out use like most people had to do during the long war. The problem is sectarism and communautarism. As long as people don't mix up and live among their coreligionaries it's never going to work. This applies to everyone but more to the Alawites because their spiritual leader Bachar is a mass murderer.

Thumb geha 15 May 2013, 15:35

I disagree with your comment as it professes something we want to end.
we are all Lebanese and should all be under the protection of the law.
when groups start arming themselves for the so called reason of protecting themselves, you can see the end result like with the alaouites now: they are afraid if their protector loses what will become of them.
rather late, but they realize now that nothing really protects groups but the law and the state.
granted they might pay the price for what they did to Tripoli, but in my opinion this is not the way to have a country and a state.

Thumb benzona 15 May 2013, 15:38

It's so dumb, I didn't even know there were Alawites in Lebanon or turkey until very recently.
What I was saying is that they shouldn't be living among themselves. They should mix with Christians, sunni, Druze, etc... It's the only way to save Lebanon.

Missing ya_kord 15 May 2013, 16:21

the question should be why do they have Syrian flags and pictures of the Syrian president if they are Lebanese? it should be Lebanese flags at least

Missing helicopter 16 May 2013, 05:26

Awesome thought. If we are able to do it the army should canvas our towns and streets and wherever there are foreign flags/posters/motto........ arrest them and ship them to the land where their hearts reside. Everyone desrves to live where they feel their heart is. Leave Lebanon to those who believe and love Lebanon.

Missing maroun 16 May 2013, 10:23

they don't identify themselves as been Lebanese ..very simple.