In Human Rights, International, Middle East

Yesterday, I visited the city of Baalbek in northeastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border. The main objective of my visit was to observe damage inflicted by Israel on civilian infrastructure in the area.

The city of Baalbek is the site of the Shia Muslim shrine of Sayyida Khawla. According to Shia Muslims, Sayyida Khawla was the daughter of Imam Hussein and great granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

Baalbek is also the site of the ancient city of Heliopolis (or the city of sun). The remains of Heliopolis constitute a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hezbollah stronghold

Baalbek, like South Lebanon, is a region in which Hezbollah enjoys strong support. I saw signs of that support everywhere. Hezbollah flags lined the streets, as did posters of Hezbollah fighters who had fallen in battles against Israel or in the Syrian war.

On the road from Beirut, at the entrance to Baalbek, lies the Palestinian refugee camp of Jalil (Galilee in Arabic). Jalil is the smallest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. I stopped there briefly on my way into Baalbek.

As is typical of Palestinian refugee camps, I saw many signs at Jalil of support for armed resistance to Israel’s occupation. Camp officials have hung a large poster of Abu Obeida just outside the entrance to the camp. Obeida is the spokesman of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. The poster proclaimed Obeida to be the representative of “the Ummah”, the Arabic word for “nation”. The concept of “the Ummah” is not geographically delimited. It means the collective nation of Islamic people.

All of Lebanon is now a potential target for Israel

As I departed Beirut for Baalbek, I learned that, hours earlier, Israel had struck an emergency relief centre in South Lebanon, killing seven volunteer paramedics.

I also learned that, on the prior day, Israel had launched its deepest strike yet into Lebanese territory. That strike occurred in the Hermel area, which lies near Lebanon’s northern border with Syria.

On January 3, Israel conducted a drone strike in southern Beirut that killed Deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri.

In addition, Israel has repeatedly struck Baalbek, which lies dozens of kilometres from Lebanon’s border with Israel.

Consequently, in the ongoing war, Israel no longer confines its attacks  to South Lebanon, and places no geographical limitation on its potential targets in Lebanon.

Moreover, Israel claims to have launched a huge number of strikes on Lebanon since October 7. On March 12, Israel said it had struck more than 4,500 “Hezbollah targets” since the start of the ongoing war.

All of this raises a question that Western media studiously ignore: is Israel trying to provoke a large-scale missile attack by Hezbollah?

For nearly six months, despite hundreds of rocket attacks by Hezbollah on Israeli targets near the Lebanon-Israel border, Israel has refrained from launching a ground invasion into South Lebanon. As I explained in this recent article, Israel’s reluctance to invade south Lebanon is highly unusual.

As a result of the drubbing Israel’s military sustained in the 2006 Lebanon war, its generals may well have calculated that Israel’s only hope of destroying Hezbollah is direct intervention by the United States military. The Biden administration would find it difficult, however, to persuade Americans to support a war on Hezbollah absent a compelling justification for placing U.S. military personnel at risk. A large-scale missile attack by Hezbollah on Israel might be the justification that Biden and Israel would need.

My video reports from Baalbek and Dahieh

In Baalbek, I visited the sites of three Israeli airstrikes.

One of those airstrikes occurred on March 12, in a residential area of Baalbek. It destroyed a storage facility for food.

Second, in a March 11 airstrike, Israel destroyed what one security source described as a “former Hezbollah building” near Dar Al Amal Hospital. A local source told me that Israel has been striking buildings that were used by Hezbollah at the time of the 2006 Lebanon war, but that are no longer used by the organization. According to that source, Israel’s military intelligence is relying on old, out-dated intelligence because its ability to gather accurate intelligence in Lebanon has been impaired in recent years.

The third site I visited was described to me by local officials as a lubricants factory. According to the officials, a popular footballer from Baalbek supplemented his income by working at that facility. He died a few days ago when an Israeli airstrike demolished the facility.

My video report from Baalbek appears below.

At the end of this article, I have posted a second video report. On March 26, I observed and reported from the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who was laid to rest in Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut known to be a Hezbollah stronghold. As the dead soldier’s comrades carried his coffin, the martyr’s young son climbed atop the coffin and raised his fist in defiance.

Video report from Baalbek

Video report from Dahieh

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  • Eric Peter

    Cry for them and cry for us.

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