The clashes on Wednesday between Hezbollah members and armed Christian villagers in the town of Kahaleh, which is a Lebanese Forces stronghold, stole the limelight and overshadowed all other events in Lebanon. The clashes that claimed two casualties — a member of Hezbollah and a Christian villager — came after a series of security events that recalled the sequences of events that preceded the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975.
From the Qurnat as Sawdā in northern Lebanon, in which two young men from the Tawk family were killed, to the deadly clashes on July 29 in the Ain Al Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon camp between Islamist factions and the National Security Forces of the Fatah movement, passing through the killing of Elias al-Hasrouni, a former Lebanese Forces coordinator in Ain Ibl, in Bint Jbeil, South Lebanon, and not ending with the overturned truck in Kahaleh belonging to Hezbollah. Lebanese security officials believe that all these incidents are the work of the same operating room, seeking to drag the country to an armed confrontation after it failed to subdue it economically with sanctions despite all the pressures exerted on it in the last several years.
So what happened in Kahaleh? A truck had overturned on a downhill turn near the village on the main road between Syria’s capital Damascus and Beirut, which is a normal occurrence that happens frequently, given the steepness of the curved road. Naturally, a number of individuals who were traveling in the truck and accompanying it got off, trying to deal with the matter. They called a crane to remove it after it caused a traffic jam. While they were doing so, a large crowd gathered and started throwing stones at them, preventing the crane from removing the truck. They demanded to know its contents and attempted to confiscate it. The truck’s owners rejected this and a fistfight broke out between them and the crowd, which developed into clashes that killed the driver and an armed villager.
Kahaleh Mayor Abboud Abi Khalil told AFP that residents had surrounded the truck demanding to know what was inside, before Hezbollah members escorting it opened fire and killed one of them.
Local lawmakers from the Lebanese Forces, a Christian armed party opposed to Hezbollah, accused the group of transporting weapons.
Hezbollah said the vehicle was its property and accused armed militias in the area of attacking its crew, saying a man “protecting the truck” was wounded and later died. In a statement, it said an exchange of fire had taken place with “the attacking gunmen.” It did not say what was on the truck. On Thursday, the Lebanese army said that the truck was carrying ammunition.
The incident marked the most serious confrontation between Hezbollah and its Lebanese opponents since deadly clashes in Beirut nearly two years ago, threatening to worsen sectarian tensions as Lebanon is paralyzed by deep political and economic crises.
Nazih Matta, a parliamentarian representing the area from the Lebanese Forces party, accused Hezbollah of transporting weapons to Beirut on the truck. “A man from Kahaleh was killed —this is totally unacceptable,” Matta said in televised comments.
Fadi Bejjani, 64, was identified as the one who was shot dead. His son, Youssef, told Reuters the pair had tried to get close to the truck after it flipped over.
Hezbollah said one of its members, Ahmad Ali Kassas, was shot and later died of his wounds.
“A number of armed men… present in the area gathered and attacked” those escorting the truck, a Hezbollah statement said Wednesday.
“They began by throwing rocks, and then opened fire,” the group added.
In the southern suburb of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, hundreds turned out for the funeral of Kassas, according to an AFP photographer, adding that heavy gunfire rang out during the procession.
Lebanon’s defense minister safe after gunfire hit his car
On Thursday, Lebanon’s caretaker Defense Minister Maurice Slim was safe after his car was hit by gunfire, the country’s interior minister said in a statement.
Slim’s vehicle was traveling in the Jisr el-Bashra neighborhood on the southeast edge of the capital Beirut on Thursday afternoon when bullets hit a window of his car, according to one security source and one political source.
Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi told reporters on Thursday that security services were investigating the incident to determine whether it was a targeted attack or the result of stray bullets.
“In any case, we thank God for the safety of the minister of defense,” Mawlawi said.
A separate security source told Reuters that the bullets were strays and denied there had been an attempt on Slim’s life.