Killing of Lebanese Forces politician sparks fury, accusations and attacks on Syrians

Killing of Lebanese Forces politician sparks fury, accusations and attacks on Syrians
Gangs of men began beating Syrians in Christian areas after the Lebanese army announced the murder of a Christian Lebanese Forces' official on Monday.
3 min read
09 April, 2024
Hezbollah denied any connection with the killing of Sleiman on Monday, saying such accusations were "very dangerous." [Getty]

The Lebanese army announced late Monday that Pascal Sleiman, coordinator for the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) in Jbeil, northern Lebanon, was killed during an attempted carjacking, sparking fury among the party's supporters and accusations about the motives behind the killing.

Sleiman had been missing since Sunday evening after what appeared to be a kidnapping attempt in the mountains above Jbeil.

After a day-long manhunt, the army said that Sleiman had been killed during the carjacking and his body transported to Syria. Syrian authorities returned his body back to Lebanon on Tuesday afternoon.

The LF has rejected the Army's explanation of the killing and said that they considered Sleiman's death a "political assassination".

"What has been leaked so far about the motives of the crime does not seem consistent with the reality of the situation. We consider it until proven otherwise, as another political assassination," the LF said in a statement on Tuesday. The party called for a deeper investigation into his killing.

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Officials from the LF and other allied parties have made thinly veiled suggestions that Hezbollah, the LF's political rival, was behind the killing. Hezbollah controls Lebanon's border with Syria, over which the body of Sleiman was transported.

In a speech on Monday, the head of Hezbollah, Nasrallah, rejected the claim that his party was behind the kidnapping of Sleiman – saying such accusations were "dangerous" and could incite sectarian violence.

Sleiman's murder comes at a moment when tensions in Lebanon are high, as the country is on the brink of war and the four-year-long economic crisis shows no sign of abating.

"It is particularly worrying and has re-opened old wounds in the Christian community in particular; it is yet another reminder there was zero accountability for the series of crimes and political assassinations that occurred in the last twenty years," Karim Bitar, a professor of international relations at Saint Joseph University, told The New Arab.

Anti-Syrian violence

Following the announcement that Sleiman had been killed by a group of Syrians, mobs of men in Christian neighbourhoods in Beirut began targeting and assaulting Syrians in the area.

Videos of an attack in Burj Hamoud show about a dozen men stomping on and dragging a Syrian man throughout the street.

In Rmeil, a Christian neighbourhood in Beirut, men wearing black hoods and clothing were patrolling the streets on motorcycles in search of Syrians.

"They were in front of the LF building, peering into cars, trying to see if there were any Syrians there. A big group of them were beating a guy," a resident of Achrafieh told TNA.

The army deployed throughout Beirut to stop the gangs and to prevent any flare-ups in violence between neighbourhoods such as Tayouneh, which had historically been the site of Shia-Christian fighting.

Lebanon's Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi said that he had instructed security forces to "strictly enforce Lebanese laws on Syrian refugees." He also called for "limiting the presence of Syrians" in the country.

Rights advocates have noted a sharp uptick in xenophobic rhetoric and violence against the 1.5 million Syrians living in Lebanon, most of whom fled Syria's civil war.