Monday, September 3, 2007

Army victorious

After more than 100 days, the Lebanese army has regained control over the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared. In how far the actual victory can be credited to the army remains to be seen: it was only after a desperate attempt of Fatah al-Islam to flee the camp that the army could push forward.

The SMS alerts were telling in this respect: first, on Sunday at 9:57 AM a message came through saying that the terrorists were escaping the camp. Later, at 5:27 PM, an SMS stated that the Lebanese army has taken full control of the camp…doh!

Luckily for the army, they were able to kill the leader of Fatah al-Islam, Shaker al-Abssi during his attempt to break out of the camp. Initial reports that he might still be alive and among a group of terrorists who managed to escape, left people a bit uncertain as to how glad they should be. Well, that deliberation took perhaps a few milliseconds for most and the celebrations started soon after.

In our valley, e.g., many people were firing into the air. At first, this lead to a bit of panic because there was a rumor that a group of escaped fighters was heading towards Kesrouein, which meant there was a big chance they would pass through close to our village, Qartaba, with the main coastal road being checked. With this in mind, people feared they had run into a military checkpoint and started a fight. Thank God that was not the case.

Still, to hear bullets being fired from all over, enforced by a strong echo in the valley, was pretty scary nonetheless. To add, there was a huge fog that blocked the view, so the bullet sounds came from an impenetrable mist. Again, thank God nobody got injured by stray bullets.

Or rather, thank Sainte Therese, since it was her feast this weekend in Qartaba. My great-, great-, great grandfather-in-law (give or take a few generations), founded a little church right on the outskirts of Qartaba back in..oh…1850 or so. He dedicated the church to Sainte Therese and ever since the first weekend of September is when we have the annual Festival of Sainte Therese in Qartaba.

She is held in the greatest respect by the villagers and they didn’t waste time to contribute the army’s victory to her: nobody believed it to be a coincidence that they were victorious during her festival!

Anyway, back to the army. Despite all the cynical comments about how they could only win when their opponents fled, they did win and that’s what counts. At the cost of 158 soldier lives and an unknown number of civilian deaths, victory didn’t come cheap. From here, a heartfelt salute to those who gave their lives. May your deaths be the start of a new Lebanon, free of terror and religious madness.

What’s up by the way with the Lebanese government not keeping score of the civilian deaths? Remember the outcry when Israel stated they didn’t keep track of the deaths they caused among the Lebanese population during last year’s war? Now, it seems the Lebanese government is not that much better, either.

Will the victory at Nahr al-Bared be the starting gun for flare-ups elsewhere in the country, as some predict? Never say never in Lebanon, but then again, why would terrorists who are limited in number compared to the Lebanese army want to lessen their chances to fight the army consecutively?

It would have been more logical to attack the army while it was still occupied in Nahr al-Bared. Let’s first await the reaction of the March 14 camp to the latest suggestion of Hezbollah to have a unity president without a unity government. If March 14 embraces this idea, chances are the unrest will subside quickly. Berri not-so-subtle alluding to ‘hidden dangers’ is an indication, however, that the opposite could also become true: without an agreement on the president, who knows what lies ahead?