Baalbek rebels join revolution generation

Protesters gather in Poet Khalil Mutran Square, near Baalbek Castle, about 85 km northeast of Beirut, on Sunday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 02 December 2019

Baalbek rebels join revolution generation

  • Protests in the city of Baalbek have peaked over the past few days

BEIRUT: The gathering in Poet Khalil Mutran Square, near Baalbek Castle, was shy at the beginning of the civil movement in Lebanon on Oct. 17, despite all the pain endured by the city.

Yassin Chamas, a citizen of Baalbek, noted that the participation of the people of northern Bekaa “is not limited to Baalbek as there are also protests in Hermel, a stronghold of Hezbollah, and the towns of Arsal and Fakha. This is due to the fact that tribal ties in the region were not fully broken by political parties which guaranteed a breathing space for people to freely express their opinions, disregarding the parties’ orders.

“Baalbek is one of the most neglected provinces in Lebanon,” said Chamas. “The only possible immigration for the new generation of educated youths is to Beirut and its southern suburb in search of job opportunities. Life is difficult. The nearest hospital is 70 km away, whereas public hospitals are almost paralyzed due to the malfunction in the state’s institutions, in addition to the difficulty in procuring fuel.”

Issa Jamaluddin, an activist in the Baalbek protests, said that “there is a media blackout on the protest movement of the region for unknown reasons.”

He added: “The people who are taking to the streets are educated. There are doctors, engineers and workers, and there are also hungry and needy people. There is certainly a divergence of opinion among us participants in the protests, but we all agree on one thing: Israel is our enemy.”

Chamas said: “The demands of the region are easy and difficult at the same time,” noting that “90 percent of real estate in the region is not registered as people could not go to Beirut to do so, due to distance and expenses, which makes it hard for any inhabitant of the region to get a housing loan or a bank loan, and that it is necessary for the state to sort this matter out.”

Chamas and Jamaluddin agree that the attack on the square provoked people to join the movement on the next day of the attack. Chamas said: “The attack was due to Hezbollah being unable to let people act according to their will because it affects its stronghold. The state has no plans for any reforms in northern Bekaa. It only seeks to buy acquiescence through cheap means which do not ward off starvation; however people have become aware enough to rise up and think about their future.”

Jamaluddin was surprised at the extent of women’s participation in the Baalbek protests and said that they exceeded over half of its participants.

Maya Al-Chel, a young activist who set a reading forum in Baalbek, said that people “are going to the square because they want to get rid of the corrupt political class and the parties in power and aim to abolish sectarianism.”

She added: “It is true that the protests were modest in the beginning but with time, and with the assault by thugs, there was a reaction, and a new generation of politically aware people came to the streets to claim job opportunities, universities and hospitals.”

She pointed out that “all accusations linking us to foreign powers are void, for we gather modest donations every day to buy flags.”

Chamas said that he belongs “to a generation that organized and participated in demonstrations before and during the civil war,” but he believes that the “revolution generation is exhibiting an unprecedented level of political consciousness.”

He added that “we failed in achieving Arab unity, in liberating Palestine, or in establishing democratic rule, and the biggest service that we could render to the rebellious generation is not to deal with them as if we are their tutors. We need to listen to their points of view. The role of my generation is to monitor rather than guide, and revolutions in the world need long years and take different forms.”

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 06 December 2019

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.