Monday, January 28, 2008

The Rise of Sunni Militancy in Lebanon

By Nir Rosen

Just before 4:30 one afternoon last July, calls to prayer echoed from all the mosques in Ayn al Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in the city of Sidon, south of Beirut. First built in 1948 for refugees from northern Palestine, the camp has grown into a ramshackle ghetto. Concrete and cinderblock line tight alleys with cobwebs of low-hung electrical cables. On the walls are layers of faded political posters—some for Hamas, some for Fatah, and still others for Saddam and even Hezbollah leader Seyid Hassan Nasrallah—marking the divisions among Palestinian resistance factions.

At the Shuhada, or martyrs’ mosque, a dozen men stood in paramilitary uniforms with walkie talkies, M4 Carbines, AK-47s, scopes, pistols, combat boots, long beards, and sunglasses. Unlike the hundreds of familiar, unkempt militiamen slinging old weapons in the camp, these men were professionals. They joined about two hundred others on the mosque’s second floor for a special prayer. They were burying Daghagh Rifai, a comrade in Usbat al Ansar, shot that morning by members of their rival faction, Fatah, after a string of attacks and retaliations. The men lined up with the others in orderly rows, placing their weapons on the floor between their legs. Some wore the salwar kameez typical in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a jihadist fashion statement. Following the prayer they gathered to gaze briefly at the corpse, wrapped in the green flag of Islam, not the Palestinian flag.

His comrades carried Daghagh’s body on an olive-colored military gurney; a procession of hundreds followed them around the corner and up an incline as camp residents watched from their doors or windows. When the silent marchers approached Lebanese soldiers at the camp’s gate on the way to the cemetery, the armed men stayed behind. They let relatives carry the body.

[Note: The tendency to label all Sunni militant groups as "al Qai'da" is inaccurate and not particularly useful in my view.]

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