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Monday, January 20, 2020

The Lebanese should back their besieged Syrian Brothers

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock

Attempts by the Syrian opposition to unseat President Bashar Al-Assad and his cronies have divided Lebanon.

Those who support the March 14th coalition broadly sympathize with anti-regime demonstrators. The March 8th alliance is strongly backing the Syrian government while others, fearful that violence will spill across the border, are closing their eyes hoping the danger will simply fade away.

The Lebanese government is out of step with the majority of Arab League member countries, officially disassociating itself from UN Security Council condemnations of the Syrian regime’s crackdown that has robbed thousands of innocent lives.

Within the political sector, tempers are fraying. Mustapha Alloush of the Future Movement and the Lebanese Baath Party’s Fayez Shukr physically attacked one another during a debate on Syria, broadcast on a Lebanese network. And, last Thursday, Muhieddine Ladkani, a Syrian opposition activist, was assaulted by a Lebanese supporter of Al-Assad during a discussion on Al Jazeera.

It’s surely about time that the Lebanese realized that what’s happening in Syria is now beyond personal political affiliations.

In December, the UN announced that the death toll had reached 5,400 and since then the murder of civilians by government forces has been ongoing with 210 killed in just four days last week.

Refugees from Syria have taken refuge in Turkey and Libya; untold numbers have fled to the mountainous region of northern Lebanon where they are being hosted by local families. Many dissenting regime officials have also left while some are hiding amid civilian populations. Others are under house arrest. They’ve read the writing on the wall and fear repercussions when the government finally falls.

The extent of the Syrian government’s barbarity against its own people, whom it has a duty to protect and serve, not only means that the President and his cohorts are unfit for purpose but also that what was initially an internal political dispute has erupted into an humanitarian crises that the international community is morally-bound to resolve.

The Arab League that has now rightly withdrawn its monitors convinced that Al-Assad has no intention of complying with its plan to end the violence and embark on a Syrian transition process.

A video on the internet of an Arab League observer entering a mosque in city of Homs to witness the bullet-ridden body of a tiny five-year-old ‘martyr’ speaks volumes.

It seems to me to be entirely wrong for Lebanon to obstruct the will of the Arab League and the United Nations in their efforts to bring peace to its neighbour teetering on the brink of civil war.

If anything, the Lebanese should be leading the charge against Al-Assad instead of behaving like unaligned Switzerland during World War II. Lebanon cannot remain neutral because Syrians and Lebanese share history, culture, and familial blood lines.

The Lebanese and the Syrians are like one family; certainly, there have been some low points between the two as there are in every family but in times of dire need families should come together as, indeed, occurred when Israel launched airstrikes against Lebanon.

in 2006 when Syrians opened their homes and their hearts to Lebanese fleeing the conflict. Those same Syrians who provided hospitality to Lebanese families are facing unbearable suffering now.

Aside from the compelling humanitarian argument for Lebanon to put all its weight behind the Syrian people, it’s wrongthinking on the part of the Lebanese government to back a losing horse. Once the Syrian opposition takes power, as I’m sure it will sooner or later, the fact that Lebanon assisted their oppressor will not bode well for the future of Syrian- Lebanese relations.

Syrian opposition parties and the fledging Free Syrian Army will have long memories. They will remember those in Lebanon who rallied against them, including those factions of the Lebanese Army which shamefully surrendered fleeing Syrians to the Syrian military.

It’s a little late but it’s not too late for the Lebanese to correct their position not only for the sake of their Syrian brothers and sisters but also their own. I would appeal to the people of Lebanon to put politics and sectarian interests to one side long enough to stand with Syrians desperate to throw-off the yoke of authoritarianism in the way Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Yemenis have done. They should denounce public figures who announce their support of the Syrian regime to the cost of the freedom-seekers.

Time is running out for the Lebanese government and people to materially aid and protect Syrian refugees suffering from a lack of essential facilities in the mountains of the north and the Beka’a valley where night-time temperatures are currently plunging as low as minus two degrees centigrade. The Government should support the Syrian people in their quest for liberty, a human right, and should apologize for standing next to those who are killing and torturing them.

Ordinary Lebanese people should ignore self-serving sectarian leaders and open their hearts and their homes to Syrian refugees.

The Lebanese have been slaves to political parties, politicians and tribal leaders for more than century. When will they decide to claim their own thoughts, their own Lebanese identity for the greater good? No leader should be followed blindly and unquestioningly. The people should demand true and honest leaders who love Lebanon enough not to impose foreign agendas.

Moreover, should the Lebanese choose to do the right thing, Russia and China would be isolated and embarrassed over their stance against people who refuse to be controlled by a tyrant. Those powers are actively harming Arabs to suit their own ends and I, for one, would support a Muslim/Arab boycott of Chinese and Russian imports until they quit endorsing dictators.

Bravo to Turkey for slamming the actions of its Syrian ally from the get-go. I just wish Ankara would ‘stop the talk and walk the walk. Bravo, too, to Qatar for its unequivocal moral standpoint. If Qatar can show such admirable leadership on the world stage, there is no reason why Lebanon that will always be inseparable from its northern neighbour shouldn’t do the same.

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