Mustafa Shreif, a teacher from the Baalbek village of Labweh, heads to the city of Hermel every day to teach mathematics, braving the dangers posed by Syrian rockets that arbitrarily land in and around the city.
For Shreif, Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s Qusair, against the Syrian rebels, aims at preventing shelling and targeted attacks on Hermel and other areas in the Bekaa Valley.
“It has become something normal, we have gotten used to it,” Shreif told The Daily Star Tuesday of the shelling incidents in Hermel. “Last time I was giving a lesson when rockets hit the area,” Shreif added.
Hermel and other areas in the Bekaa Valley have become a target for rockets fired by Syrian rebels in the past month. The Syrian opposition argues that it is attacking what it believes are Hezbollah sites in Hermel in retaliation for the party fighting alongside the Syrian regime in Qusair.
But Hezbollah says it is protecting the Lebanese-inhabited Syrian villages in Qusair against attacks by takfiri groups, the term the party and its ally, the Syrian regime, uses to refer to the Syrian rebels. Takfiri groups consider Muslims that do not endorse their extremist ideology as infidels.
“We had to choose to either wait for them to come here, or to make a preemptive strike and fight them over there,” Shreif added, sipping coffee at his house in the village.
“Anyone who crosses to Syria from Hermel is kidnapped [by the rebels] ... this is being done on purpose to spark sectarian strife,” he added.
Hermel and many other Bekaa Valley towns and villages are Shiite, and consequently Hezbollah strongholds. The Syrian rebels are predominantly Sunnis.
“Fighting has become our duty, after the rockets and other attacks were made against us ... this is a battle to prevent strife,” Shreif continued.
Backed by Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian army staged a massive offensive against the strategic town of Qusair Sunday, after capturing most of the rural areas around the city last month.
Security sources in Lebanon put the number of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria since Sunday at 18 with 45 wounded. Funerals for the gunmen were held Sunday and Monday in the Bekaa Valley, the south and Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Huge posters for Mohammad Fouad Rabah, one of the Hezbollah fighters killed during the battles in Syria, were on display in Labweh. His funeral was held in the village Monday.
“We sacrificed many martyrs to liberate the south and protect Lebanon. Now we are ready to make similar sacrifices to protect Lebanon again and preserve coexistence,” Shreif said.
Posters of fighters killed were on display on shop windows, cars and electrical posts in their villages, with messages expressing pride for the departed.
In Shaath, another Baalbek village, Qassem Attar was silent as he received condolences for the death of his two sons, Ali and Radwan, who perished fighting in Syria. The father, eyes red with grief, wore a Hezbollah scarf, like the other mourners in attendance.
Huge posters of the two deceased fighters were on display with messages congratulating “Imam Mahdi and [Iran’s Supreme] Leader [Ali] Khamenei” for their martyrdom.
Some residents of Shaath were reluctant to speak to the media about their feelings.
“Where are you from? You should get a permit from Hezbollah before talking to us. This area is under the control of Hezbollah. You should give me your names,” said a butcher who refused to be identified by name.
After talking to some Hezbollah officials from a radio in his car, where he also kept his AK-47, the butcher said: “The young men said you can speak to anyone you want.”
Other inhabitants of Shaath voiced their unyielding support for Hezbollah and expressed their readiness to fight the Syrian rebels, even if doing so would cost them their lives.
“We consider the Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria to be martyrs, just like the martyrs who fell while fighting Israel,” said Mahdi, who also works at the butcher shop.
“Those we are fighting in Syria are funded and backed by Israel. We are not fanatics, we are only defending ourselves against takfiris,” he said. “Are these who slaughter and behead people Muslims?” he asked referring to video footage showing Syrian rebels mutilating the bodies of Syrian soldiers.
The Syrian opposition said it would investigate the acts depicted in the footage that recently went viral.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Shaath resident Issam Hajj Hasan.
“These [Syrian rebels] are worse than Israel. Hezbollah is fighting them to prevent them from attacking us,” he said.
Asked whether he was afraid of retaliatory attacks by the rebels, Hajj Hasan said: “We are not scared at all. What will they do? It will not be worse than the July 2006 war.”
“If I could use arms, then for sure I would join them. We are not better than those martyred,” Hajj Hasan’s sister said.
Elsewhere in Baalbek, the funeral of Abbas Ali Moqdad was held in the village of Maqneh.
Hezbollah also held funerals, in the city of Baalbek, for fighters Ahmad Raad, Ali Qataya, Mahdi Mortada and Mohammad Sablani.
The party’s gunmen were positioned in high numbers during the processions, blocking the road to the cemetery. Taking part in the funeral was Hussein Khalil, a political aid to Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, a senior party official along with Hezbollah MPs Ali Moqdad, Ali Ammar and Nawwaf Musawi.
Prior to the funerals, gunmen cruised in cars in the city, firing gun shots and rocket-propelled grenades, prompting shops in the city to close.
More funerals for Hezbollah fighters killed in Qusair are to be held Wednesday in Baalbek.
source www.dailystar.com.lb By Wassim Mroueh