BEIRUT — A group of civilians in Teffahta, near Nabatieh, in southern Lebanon, on Wednesday threw rocks at security forces and fired shots in the air as the latter attempted to shut down their illegal excavation activities on public property, an ISF statement released on Sunday said.
In a video circulating on social media and seen by L'Orient Today, a group of ISF members faces a group of around 20 men at a distance of around 100 meters. Following a verbal exchange between two of the men and the ISF patrol, one of the men signals to the group standing behind him, yelling, "Run!" and pointing in the direction of the ISF. At the command, the group starts screaming and throwing rocks at the ISF, while one of its members fires a gun in the air several times.
In its Sunday statement, the ISF said that on Wednesday, the force received information indicating that "around 150 individuals, divided into groups," had brought bulldozers "to the outskirts of the town of Teffahta, near Nabatieh to excavate into a mountain, which is public property." The statement added that the area is "about 40 dunams [40,000 square meters]" in size and the excavation was "in preparation for carrying out construction work."
The ISF added that the groups closed off routes leading from the town to the locality with "earth mounds, cars and bikes."
Head of the Teffahta municipality Ibrahim Kawtharani told L'Orient Today that the groups "are not part of any commercial companies" and that they are excavating the mountain to extract material for use in personal construction projects. Kawatharani added that prior to Wednesday's incident, the municipality had tried to reach out to the individuals involved and convince them to stop their illegal activities, but to no avail.
The head of the municipality also said that the individuals allege they need access to the construction materials due to Lebanon's economic crisis. The country has been in a state of financial collapse since 2019, which has pushed more than 80 percent of the population below the poverty line.
The ISF added in its statement that on Wednesday a patrol left the Zefta police station and headed to Teffahta to stop the groups from excavating the mountain, but "it was intercepted by a group of young men," after which reinforcements were sent to the locality.
"Immediately upon its arrival, the sound of gunfire was heard from the location of the bulldozers — before the video was recorded — when they tried to advance," the ISF statement said, adding that ISF members were "pelted with stones, which necessitated the head of the police station to fire a warning, and the force was compelled to retreat in order to avoid civilian casualties."
The statement continued, "After that, it [the ISF patrol] was reinforced by additional force, with the support of the Lebanese Army, as it headed at night to the cliff location, which appeared empty, but [the force] was subjected to bursts of gunfire from a distant place."
The ISF added that, despite being intercepted with force, it had managed to thwart the excavation activities, saying it was able to "seal the bulldozers with red wax and disable them." The ISF also said an investigation has been launched into the attack on the patrol.
The ISF noted that attempts to encroach on public property "are continuing in more than one location in the surrounding area."