Tribal conflicts adding fuel to fire in Lebanon

Tribal conflicts adding fuel to fire in Lebanon
In the Bekaa Valley, family feuds often spiral into violence and the government's security plans have so far failed to ease tensions.
4 min read
18 November, 2014
Security operations have done little to stop clan violence in the Bekaa Valley [AFP]

Last week in the Bekaa Valley, gunmen from the Jaafar clan shot dead a Christian man and his wife in the village of Betadai, close to Baalbek.

The gunmen, from a Shia family, were already on the run from the Lebanese army - which has been conducting operations in the area, as part of a plan to bring greater security to the east of Lebanon.

Alledgedly, the Jaafar gunmen entered the Fakhri family's home and opened fire on the residents. Apparently, they intended to steal vehicles and escape into the surrounding wilderness, away from government control, but things got quickly out of hand.


Some analysts say it was a deliberate targeted killing of Christians by Shia Muslims, rather than merely a theft gone wrong. This interpretation gives the tragedy added ramifications, threatening to explode into a war between clans of different religious and political backgrounds.

Local political parties and security agencies are working to quickly bring tensions back off the boil.

The Christian-dominated Lebanese Forces political party contacted the Fakhri clan and asked the family to exercise restraint while the government investigates. In this part of Lebanon, families often take matters into their own hands.

The head of the Amal Movement, Nabih Berri, asked Ghazi Zaiter, the party's Baalbek MP, to ask the Jaafar family to hand over the suspects in an effort to end the nascent feud.

"[The suspects] entered the Fakhri family's home to seek protection and assistance, based on their acquaintance with the family that goes back decades… a quarrel ensued in the house and gunfire was exchanged by all sides," read a statement from Jaafar clan elders.

The clan leaders also called for the army to investigate the deaths.

     A quarrel ensued in the house and gunfire was exchanged by all sides.
- Jaafar clan statement

However, the words did little to ease the feud. The Fakhri clan said it hoped the suspects would be turned over to the state, so that it was not "forced to seek vengeance".

Over the past year there has been a wave of kidnappings between Sunni and Shia groups in the Bekaa Valley. Now it looks like a new community has been dragged into the violence.

Tribal vendettas

Security officials in the Bekaa Valley are convinced that the suspects will not be turned in, which could lead to a cycle of revenge killings.

There has been little sectarian violence around Baalbek for years, even during the Lebanese civil war, when many families refused to take sides. During the Syrian occupation that followed, clans on both sides of the sectarian divide were known to hide suspects, regardless of their background, from the notorious Syrian intelligence services.

From the mid-1980s to 2005, Baalbek's residents of all religions suffered under Syria's brutal military occupation, when officers and soldiers stripped towns and farmlands of anything valuable. 

Years later, government neglect of the area has fostered a community spirit as families work together on matters of mutual concern, such as farming.

But aside from this air of congeniality, there has been a spate of car thefts, armed robberies, and kidnappings. Last week, gunmen stormed the Jammal Bank in Baalbek and stole around $320,000. There was also an attempted kidnapping of a bishop in March.

Lack of trust

Yassin Ali Jaafar, the leader of the Jaafar clan, blames the government for the valley's lawlessness.

"As a result of the chaos and the neglect by the state and successive governments for this region, gangs became active," he said.

Jaafar said that the two main Shia political parties, the Amal Movement and Hizballah, have exacerbated problems by doing little to create new jobs for young people.

This has led many to believe that the government's security plan, initiated in March, will fail due to a lack of trust for central authority among locals.

On the run

As a demonstration of the area's lawlessness, 1,000 fugitives are thought to be on the run in the Bekaa Valley for crimes including armed robbery, kidnappings, and drug trafficking.

Despite ongoing security operations, clan violence is common across the Bekaa Valley and has even reached Beirut's southern suburbs.

Mediations from political parties have failed, while casualties continue to mount. 


This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.