Friday, November 8, 2013

Supporters of Lebanese politician Wiʾam Wahhab die in Syria

On Monday the death of five pro-Asad Druze was reported in 'Arna, a village on the Syrian controlled side of Mount Hermon in the Golan near the ceasefire line of 1974, not far from the Lebanese border. It turned out that the five had been supporters of Lebanese politician Wi'am Wahhab and his Arab Tawhid Party, which was admitted by the party in an official statement cited by the Daily Star:
“The Arab Tawheed Party mourns its martyrs who perished on Nov. 4, 2013, in the battle of defending pride and dignity during clashes with terrorist groups in the village of Arna in Mount Hermon,” the party said in a statement.
Arna, a predominantly Druze Syrian area of Mount Hermon, has seen battles between Syrian opposition groups and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, a Lebanese security source said.
The Arab Tawheed Party is headed by former Cabinet Minister Wiam Wahhab, a staunch supporter of Assad.

Describing them as “champions,” the party said that “the blood of martyrs will not be wasted” and will go on to “expose the Takfiris [jihadists], terrorism and extremism.”
According to Lebanese news portal Now.:
The statement identified the 4 deceased men and one woman as Hassan Baraka, Sami Abu Aql, Assaad Abu Morra, Hassan Badreddine and Noura al-Nabawani.

Größere Kartenansicht  

 Wiʾam Wahhab

Wahhab, a former minister, gains his limited prominence in Lebanon's confessional politics not through his position in the own Druze community but rather through his connection with the regime of Bashar al-Asad. He can be considered as Asad's unofficial spokesperson in Lebanon link (or one of a few spokespersons to be more exact) and is widely known for his abusive language (e.g. here  and here), even by the standards of Lebanese politicians. His Arab Tawhid Party fails countinuously to gain a seat in the parliament and is only a party of secondary importance, since Walid Junblat's Progressive Socialist Party dominates Druze politics and Amir Talal Arslan's Lebanese Democratic Party is the major Druze ally of the Syrian regime in Lebanon. 

Wahhab's involvement in Syria

The Syrian regime allowed Wahhab, unlike e.g. Walid Junblat, to establish links with the Druze communies in Syria. According to the Lebanese pro-Asad daily al-Akhbar:
His party has offices in Syria, distributes thousands of copies of its magazine there, and is a regular guest at the mobilization meetings held by the ruling Baath party in the provinces.
From 2011 on allegations (most prominently by Muntaha al-Atrash, the daughter of Syrian national hero Sultan al-Atrash) were voiced, that Wahhab is building up pro-Asad militias in the Druze province of Suwaidaʾ link. However, to my knowledge, these reports had never been confirmed.
During the summer of 2013 it was revealed to me by a credible source in Lebanon that supporters of Wahhab from Mount Lebanon are actually fighting in Suwaidaʾ and Jaramana, a suburb of Damaskus. The news of casualties among Wahhab's supporters came therefore as no big surprise. After Hizballah, Wahhab's Arab Tawhid Party is the second Lebanese group to admit (pro-regime) military involvement in Syria - others e.g. the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) might follow. Keeping in mind the recent bombings in Hizballah's territory, the question of possible consequences in Lebanon arises - for Wahhab's supporters or in a wider Druze context. A bomb targeting an office of the Arab Tawhid Party in April 2012 injured one person but caused no casualties link (although internal Lebanese motives for the bombing can't be ruled out). 

"Syrian Druze: Toward Defiant Neutrality" (very informative analysis by Gary C. Gambill for the Foreign Policy Research Institute from March 2013)

Edit:
Video of Wahhab visiting Suwaidaʾ late September 2013


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