Stand-off in Bekaa Valley

The Lebanese army has besieged military positions run by the People’s Front for Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), including a network of tunnels dug in the mountains in Sultan Yaqoub (Jacob) area in the eastern Bekaa Valley. Lebanese authorities are demanding the PFLP-GC hand over persons who allegedly opened fire on a government survey team in the valley Oct. 25, killing one. The PFLP-GC denies involvement. (Arabic News, Oct. 27) There are also reports that the Bekaa compound of the group Palestinian Fatah-Intifada has also been surrounded. (Arab Monitor, Oct. 26)

The stand-off comes just as the UN has released a new report highly critical of Syrian, charging that Damascus continues to clandestinely arm Palestinian factions in Lebanon despite the withdrawal of it troops from the country earlier this year. In presenting the report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned of “an increasing influx of weaponry and personnel from Syria” to militia groups in Lebanon. The US, UK and France have proposed a resolution threatening sancitons unless Syria cooperates with an investigation into the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister. (AP, Oct. 27)

Interestingly, the tensions come on the heels of the Oct. 12 passing of Maj.-Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, who served as Syria’s chief of intelligence in Lebanon for nearly 20 years. His Oct. 17 obituary in the London Times notes the strategic significance of the Bekaa for the Syrian occupation and the profusion of paramilitary factions they protected there:

When Hafiz seized power in 1970, he relied heavily on his fellow sectarians, and Kanaan was a beneficiary. After reportedly leading an infantry unit against the Israelis in the war of 1973 on the Golan Heights, he rose to full colonel and was put in charge of military intelligence in the region of Homs, where he proved both competent and ruthless. In 1982 he was promoted again and sent to Lebanon to replace General Mohammad Ghanem as head of the Mukhabarat, general political intelligence.

That same year Israel invaded Lebanon amid a ferocious civil war between the country’s various communities: Christians, Druzes, Sunnis, Shias and Palestinians. Kanaan manipulated, intimidated or bribed militia leaders to favour Syria and managed to cause the failure of a US-brokered treaty between the Lebanese Government and Israel in 1983. His methods included assassinations, such as that of the Grand Mufti of the Sunnis, Hasan Khalid, in 1989. The large-scale cultivation of the opium poppy in the Bekaa Valley and trafficking heroin abroad made him and his mentors in Damascus extremely wealthy.

Se our last post on Lebanon and the PFPL-CG crackdown.