Lebanon Christian Town: No Defenders
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (AP) _ For the first time in more than two decades, there were no armed defenders, either Lebanese or Israeli, when the sun rose Wednesday over this Christian town and former bastion of defiance.
Instead, this erstwhile headquarters of Israel’s proxy militia force was a place of apprehension and uncertainty, of scattered looting and of attempts at assurance and reconciliation by clergymen, both local Christians and visiting Muslims.
``We have been impatiently waiting for the end of the Israeli occupation, but we were taken by surprise this morning,″ Greek Orthodox Bishop Elias Kafouri said.
The last Israel troops left Lebanon under cover before dawn Wednesday, ending efforts to protect their own borders by occupying a southern swath of Lebanon. A succession of predominantly Muslim guerrillas have launched cross-border attacks from Lebanon on the Jewish state for nearly half a century.
When the Israelis abruptly accelerated their withdrawal this week, their alliance with the South Lebanon Army militia imploded. Militiamen deserted by the hundreds, surrendering in Lebanon and fleeing across the border to Israel.
``Before, we had some kind of protection. Now we don’t,″ said Fadi Skaff, who runs a computer shop. ``We’re trying to leave, to just go anywhere. By the time the government comes here, it will be too late.″
Skaff, 22, was among a hundred people who spent the night in a Greek Orthodox church, one of several Marjayoun sanctuaries where residents sought safety in numbers.
In the last three days, Shiite Muslim guerrillas and their supporters from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Syrian-backed Amal movements swept into dozens of Shiite villages as soon as the Israelis and SLA left. Joyous celebrations followed, as Shiite refugees returned home and Shiites who’d never left lauded their fellow Muslims as liberators.
Hezbollah, the dominant Shiite movement, issued conciliatory statements to reassure the Christian minority in a country wracked by sectarian civil war between 1975 until 1990. But the mood was somber in Christian villages, dotted across the predominantly Muslim south.
This morning, happy Hezbollah youths drove into the deserted streets of Marjayoun, a virtually all-Christian town of 5,000. They honked their car horns and waved their movement’s bright yellow banners that show a Kalashnikov rifle lofted over the word Allah, the Arabic name for God.
Also arriving were men wearing the red-white-and-black armbands of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, a mostly Christian Lebanese group allied with Syria and with roots in Marjayoun predating the civil war.
By midday, there were scattered reports of looting, although no one knew or would say who was responsible.
George and Hayat Wanna went to watch Hezbollah’s arrival and returned to find the glass in their kitchen door smashed, paintings flung on the floor and $3,500 in gold jewelry stolen. Wanna, a 51-year-old mechanic and retired police officer, said two generators and $800 worth of spare auto parts were taken.
``It would have been better if we had left,″ Hayat Wanna said. ``We had not expected this. We were among the first to go to the square to welcome Hezbollah.″
One target was not a surprise: the one-story stone house of Antoine Lahd, the SLA commander who is now believed to be in Israel. The looters hauled away communications equipment, a television set and even kitchen pots.
A visiting Hezbollah delegation, including a member of Parliament and several Shiite clergymen, told Bishop Kafouri that Hezbollah will not allow any sectarian violence in Marjayoun.
``Security will be better than it was before,″ Sheik Mohammed Sbeiti said. ``We will make this area an example for all areas.″
Kafouri greeted them as liberators.
``We thank God that the occupation has ended,″ he said. ``There is nothing more sweet than freedom.″