Battling militia groups mire Lebanon’s Shiite population

Fellows Fall 2004

By Julie Goodman

June 02, 2009

Zeinab Safa, 70, says a war among Shiites is

Zeinab Safa, 70, says a war among Shiites is "scary."

ZIBDIN, Lebanon — Violence broke out recently between rival Shiite Muslim groups in a small southern town in Lebanon over who had the right to post political signs in the area.

The clash between Amal and Hezbollah, however, was not just with machine guns. The groups exchanged rocket fire in one of the biggest outbreaks of violence between the two in years.

"Israel was easier for us," said Zeinab Safa, 70, whose home near the Israeli border is not far from the shelling once rampant in the area.

"A war among families is scary."

In the 1980s, Hezbollah, a fighting militia, broke off from Amal.

Residents said the fighting started after a small boy was accused of taking down a Hezbollah poster. Bullets hailed from both sides. Media reports said the scuffle began during a Hezbollah celebration.

Since then, the Army has been posted at the site of the skirmish. A young soldier was seen leaning up against a tank with a gun slung across his body.

"What are they fighting about? Over the worn-out walls or their own status? God help us," said Abdel Rahim Qobeissi, 82, a farmer who supports Amal.

Imam Musa Sadr, who disappeared on a trip to Libya in 1978, founded Amal in mid-1975 after Beirut's civil war broke out. The militia's initial aim was to confront what it saw as plans by Israel to displace Lebanese with Palestinians.

Fouad Ajami, author of The Vanished Imam on Sadr's life and the Shi'a of Lebanon, said Sadr proclaimed "arms were the adornment of men" and that violence was sometimes necessary. But he also spoke out against warfare in Lebanon and proliferation of armed groups.

Violent confrontation between Amal and Hezbollah over territory has flared in the past. One of the last major conflicts came in 1988 during the civil war. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri is now the group's leader.

Rabab Sadr Charafeddine, Sadr's sister, says she follows her brother's vision.

Lebanon would be better off if the two groups would unite and work together, she said.

"Separation is not good," she said.

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