"We couldn't sleep on Saturday," said Georges."Hundreds of men arrived on motorcycles, then Christians and Muslims clashed. They insulted religious figures they revere, they smashed everything. The army fired shots into the air to calm them down."
"The troublemakers are not from around here; we have never seen them here before. Some came as reinforcement from Zalka and Bourj Hammoud, others from the Shiite neighborhoods of Hay el-Sellom and Laylaki, in the southern suburb, to take part in the sectarian violence," added Hussein, a retired soldier, who believes that the risk of new tensions is not to be excluded.
On Saturday evening, clashes broke out in Ain el-Remmaneh-Chiyah district between supporters of various Christian parties and followers of the Shiite Amal-Hezbollah duo, on the sidelines of a protest against the political class organized in downtown Beirut in the afternoon. Many were wounded. The violence took place near the old demarcation line that separated the Christian and Muslim districts during the civil war, not far from Sannine Street, in Ain el-Remmaneh. It took almost two hours for the armed forces to restore calm to the area that evening.
"Ain el-Remmaneh and Chiyah are home to people from all faiths. The troublemakers are trying to pit us against each other to recreate the demarcation lines of the war. They are making all this circus to give a boost to the political parties that are losing their footing," said Georges.
Samy fought among the ranks of the Amal movement during the civil war but has since laid down his arms. He criticized the violence over the weekend. "I myself fired at least 20,000 shells and a million bullets into this area during the war, because it was right on the dividing line...but never when there was someone on the street," said the war veteran, who said that his own mother is Christian. "And then the war ended and we were able to visit the country's other regions. It was then that I discovered that I had a completely distorted image of Christians. After the war, I understood that it was all a lie and that we had served the interests of some politicians. I will not leave this neighborhood even if I were to die here."
Samy also deplored the irresponsibility of some young people in the area who he said added fuel to the fire, without thinking about the consequences of their actions. "Some of them tried to intimidate Shiite residents of the neighborhood on Sunday evening by forbidding them from gathering at the bottom of a building, as they are used to. It is unacceptable," he said. "It would have been enough for one of these men to get angry, for a bullet to be fired and for the situation to escalate further. It's that simple."
"People are stressed and afraid"
Elsewhere in the area, residents seemed to have regained some normality. On the next day, shops were opened even though customers are scarce. Wadih, a 58-year-old Christian father, went out shopping but couldn’t but notice that the atmosphere remains tense. "Life has not returned to normal after the weekend clashes. It’s still a bit tense, but we don’t want a new war," he told the OLJ. "The violence we have witnessed is part of a plan to sow chaos in the country. I lived the bitter experience of war. I don't want my children to experience this and I forbid them to meddle in politics."
Nouna, 28, who has not yet recovered from the violence of the weekend, and her friend Laura, 37, also went out to do some shopping. "They cannot threaten us with their weapons," said the young woman, referring to the Hezbollah supporters. "We do not want war, we are tired, but they must stop attacking our religious symbols," added Nouna, who works in the humanitarian sector. As for Laura, she only asks to "live in peace." "Do political leaders realize the bloodshed they are likely to cause? I have a son and my biggest fear is that something will happen to him if the clashes resume. They want a sectarian war, but we will not let them do this."
Joseph Harb, a 57-year-old carpenter, was born and has always lived in Ain el-Remmaneh. Two of his brothers died here during the civil war. Despite everything he lived through, Joseph today opposes any armed conflict, although he is fed up with the provocations of supporters of the Shiite duo. "People are stressed and they are afraid. It is unacceptable to be attacked in this way while the State is unfortunately absent. Nothing that happened on Saturday was spontaneous. We hope that the state will succeed in protecting us, "he told OLJ.
"People think that waging war is a game. They don't realize what it entails," said Georges Yahchouchy, a 60-year-old garage owner whose walls are lined with pictures of the Virgin Mary. "You can lose your home, your money, not to mention your family and loved ones. I saw many people die around me during the war. We must explain all this to the younger generations," he said.
(This article was originally publishd in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 9th of June)
Beer and cigarette in hand, Georges, Hussein and Samy, who were sitting at a grocery store located in a mixed-faith street along the old civil war demarcation line, commented on the clashes that erupted on Saturday between the districts of Ain el-Remmaneh and Chiyah. Georges, a 59-year-old Maronite Christian, runs the store, and his two customers, in their fifties, are Shiite Muslims who are...