by Hikmat Samhan, The Daily Star
“I haven’t gone up for three years,” he said. “There are no guarantees. Our east is occupied by Daesh.”
Samhan, a senior resident of Ras Baalbek, was using the Arabic acronym of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Al-Qaeda splinter group that has declared a “caliphate” last month in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Now the village, a few kilometers north of Arsal, has set up watch posts to track and guard against Syrian rebels hiding in the nearby hills on the border with Syria. If they attack, the village’s defenders can fight them off for a spell, Samhan said.
“Then the village will have woken and the Army would have woken, and maybe help would come from Hezbollah, because wherever they show up Hezbollah shows up,” he said.
Ras Baalbek is only a few kilometers from Syria, bordered by a lawless mountain range. Its 10,000 residents are overwhelmingly Christian.
But the village’s modest effort at self-defense and the anxieties of its residents shed light on the broader fears of Christians in the region, faced with ascendant extremism that threatens their ancestral homes.
It also offers a glimpse as to why many Christians in Lebanon are still allied with Hezbollah, despite, or because of, the party’s intervention in the Syrian civil war against radical Syrian rebel groups.
The defense of the village on a daily basis falls to men like Rifaat Nasrallah and other Ras Baalbek residents who have taken up meager arms to defend themselves against what they described as raids by ISIS.
Nasrallah, who was wounded in the first rocket attack to hit the village in January, is a member of the Resistance Brigades, an armed wing that was initially created by Hezbollah to incorporate non-Shiites who wished to join in the fight against Israel. (...)