Total Pageviews

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Memorial Image of Hezbollah Official Links Him to Sectarian Battle for Syria

A memorial poster for the Hezbollah military leader Hassane Laqees, carried at his funeral in Baalbek, Lebanon on Wednesday, referred to him as Mohamed Azakir/Reuters A memorial poster for the Hezbollah military leader Hassane Laqees, carried at his funeral in Baalbek, Lebanon on Wednesday, referred to him as “The Martyr, The Mujahid, The Leader.”

As our colleagues Anne Barnard and Ben Hubbard report from Beirut, after the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah announced the death of a senior military official on Wednesday, a photo montage of the dead man began circulating online that connected him to the sectarian battle for control of neighboring Syria.

The poster, which was also carried at his funeral, showed the dead man, Hassane Laqees, in uniform, with the militant group’s flag over one shoulder and the dome of a mosque in Syria revered by Shiite Muslims over the other.

One version of the image posted on Twitter showed Mr. Laqees with the dome of the Sayida Zeinab mosque outside Damascus behind him, alongside a photograph of his son Ali, who was killed during Hezbollah’s war with Israel in 2006, according to the militant group’s news channel, Al Manar.

Al Manar’s video report on the funeral showed that another version of the poster, also featuring both the shrine in Syria and the man’s dead son, was on display in Baalbek, where he was buried.

Fighters from Hezbollah and the Shiite power in the region, Iran, have joined the battle for Syria to keep their sectarian allies in the government of President Bashar al-Assad from being overrun by Sunni Muslim jihadist groups. In that context, a battle this year to defend the shrine to Sayida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad revered by Shiites, has become central to propaganda justifying that intervention from both Iran and Hezbollah.

As Nicholas Blanford reported for the Christian Science Monitor in January, preserving the holy site was also the focus of a propaganda video apparently produced late last year by a Shiite militants from Iraq, which features images of the mosque and a martial song with the refrain, “Oh Zeinab.”

A propaganda video casting the war in Syria as a sectarian struggle to defend a Shiite holy site.

In another sign that the sectarian struggle in Syria has crossed the border into Lebanon, a little-known group calling itself the Free Sunnis of Baalbek, after the town in the Bekaa Valley where Hezbollah support is strong, claimed responsibility for killing Mr. Laqees in an Arabic-language post on Twitter.

The message called the killing a “heroic, jihadist operation” against an official from the “Party of the Devil,” a mocking reference to the name Hezbollah, which when translated means “Party of God.”

Although there was some speculation that the Hezbollah military official might even have been killed in Syria, residents of the south Beirut neighborhood where he lived told Agence France-Presse that they heard a “light sound” of a bullet firing in the middle of the night, followed by screaming.

“I looked through the window and saw a crowd of people,” Mr. Abdullah told A.F.P. “I didn’t understand what was going on until I talked to the neighbors, and they said ‘Your neighbor has been assassinated.’” Ali Fares, another neighbor, added: “We went downstairs and found the martyr in his car with the door open. Maybe he was trying to get out of his car when they were watching him. So as soon as he opened his car door, they fired at him.”