Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian camp, Beirut
As families assemble to claim their departed loved ones in this observer’s south Beirut neighborhood of Haret Hreik, there have been at least 45 confirmed deaths. Nearly 250 people have been wounded, many seriously, and are being treated at the three Shia run hospitals, Al-Sahel, Bahman and Al-Rassoul Al-Aazam. All are victims of the 6 p.m. rush hour terrorist bombings in Hezbollah’s security zone on 11/12/2015 that targeted civilians shopping at street markets or gathering at the local husseiniyeh (a congregation hall named in honor of the revered first Shia Imam Hussein ibn Ali) for the fourth of the five daily prayers, Salat al-Magrib, held in early evening, just after sunset.
At dawns first light on 11/13/2015, this observer returned to Ain al-Sikkeh street near the Burj al Barajneh Palestinian camp and was briefed by Hezbollah security officials and other eye-witnesses. There were reportedly 4 young male suicide bombers involved. Each wore a vest packed with approximately 20 kilos of high explosives, including ball bearings, nails, screws, and bolts to produce maximum deadly shrapnel. One security source claimed that the plastic explosive C-4 was used and the terrorist employed a battery as a detonator. If true, this would seem to indicate a well-planned operation by a major sponsor from the escalating proxy war next door in Syria, due to the difficulty of locals coming up with C-4, even in Lebanon, these days.
One of the 4 suicide bombers, one reportedly got cold feet, which is common in about 10% of these kinds of events, according to a military source. The young man died when his partner evidently sensed his failing courage and detonated his own explosive vest. He was killed by the blast, but his own explosive vest did not detonate from the concussion and will surely be studied as forensic evidence. One of the 4 fled the scene, according to army guys at the checkpoint near the Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian camp who had heard someone shout: “He fled back into Burj.” This has not been verified, but the search has been beefed up since this morning.
The bombings were the first in Hezbollah’s security zone for more than a year. Between July 2013 and February 2014, there were nine attacks on Hezbollah bastions, most claimed by jihadist extremists; six of them were in this observer’s neighborhood. In every case the perpetrators claimed the attacks were in response for Hezbollah’s decision to send thousands of fighters into neighboring Syria in support of forces pitted against the now Islamist-dominated uprising.
The extremist Islamic State (ISIS/Da’ish) group has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack, issuing a statement within two hours of the bombings: “Soldiers of the Caliphate detonated explosives planted on a motorbike in an area frequented by Rafida (Shiites) after the apostates gathered in the area, one of the knights of martyrdom detonated his explosive belt in the midst of them.” IS subsequently issued another statement identifying three of the attackers as two Palestinians and a Syrian. More than 2000 Palestinians from Yarmouk camp, as well as Syrian refugees from that country’s nearly five year-long war, have moved in desperation into the Burj al-Barajneh camp.
One commander was quoted in Beirut’s Daily Star this morning as shouting to his men during the chaos: “I want men at every entrance of the camps (Burj al Barajneh and Shatila). You will stand in front of the entrance and fire in the air. I want them to be afraid”.
“The only way they could have done this is if they came from that camp,” one of the security gunmen also told The Daily Star. “We will seal it. We are out for blood and we will get it.” He claimed that the suicide bombers had made their way from the Palestinian camp and headed on foot toward the husseiniyeh before detonating themselves on its doorstep.
Several hotheads, both Sunni and Shia, have threatened this morning to inflame the current bellum sacrum (religious war) which continues to spread in this region. Some Shia young men were overheard arguing with their commander as he rejected their calls to attack the Palestinian camps of Burj al Barajneh and Shatila. Some Sunnis from Beirut have been posting social media taunts, a number of which have appeared on the Narhanet news outlet, asking what took Da’ish so long to bring the fight to Hezbollah, adding that it’s about time.
It appears fairly clear that Da’ish, which has many mothers, is here to stay. The global powers involved in the conflict have increasingly come to believe that air strikes and modest troops on the ground will not defeat the so-called Caliphate. The war in Syria is now a proxy war of attrition and over the long haul, numbers have historically been determinative in deciding the outcome of such conflicts. ISIS and other terrorist groups continue to swell their ranks while their adversaries are face severe troop depletion and dwindling resources.
Hezbollah is taking heavy casualties and their supporters are not happy to lose their sons. And to a lesser but still unacceptable degree, it is the same in Iran. Iran cannot continue to pour money into this war of attrition and the lifting of international sanctions will take at least two years to positively impact their treasury.
Russia is fast learning that they have miscalculated what they could achieve with their imprecise but intense bombing campaign. The EU urgently needs an end to the immigrant tsunami and the GCC countries are beginning to face blow-back for their roles in the conflict over the past several years. The American public is exhausted by a decade of misguided and criminal wars in their name that have ruined their country’s reputation under the banner of “humanitarian values” and have cost them trillions of much-needed dollars that would be much better spent rebuilding their own country and tackling its own serious and growing domestic problems. The Obama administration appears deeply fractured over what to do anymore in Syria and Iraq.
The Palestinians are frankly in one hell of a mess in Lebanon and Syria for all the old reasons and now more so, after being caught up in a Sunni-Shia religious war that could last for centuries.
Few people (certainly not this observer) believe that this weekend’s international talks will end with a plan to end Syria’s civil war, partly because the 17 countries and three international bodies (The Arab League, Britain, China, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and the United Nations) are deeply divided over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The stated aim of this latest conflab is to agree on a structure for political transition and on which of the factions, the Syrian government and various rebel and opposition factions, will take part in this transitional body. However, none of these groups will be attending the conference itself. According to a leaked version of the latest Russian draft proposal, Moscow wants her ally President Assad to stay in office during an 18-month period. This is a non-starter for Washington and its 7 allies.
As John Kerry left for Vienna yesterday he commented: “The walls of mistrust within Syria, within the region, and within the international community, are thick and they are high.”
Meanwhile, much-anticipated in some quarters, the arrival of Da’ish into Hezbollah’s security zone in south Beirut threatens to suck the current 270,000 Palestinians in Lebanon into the Syrian maelstrom.