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LEBANON: Security forces destroy 'one third' of hashish plantations

August 26, 2009 |  7:25 am

Lebanon-hashish

Most summers, if Lebanon isn’t paralyzed by war, civil strife or political crisis, security forces make a show of razing hashish fields in the fertile Bekaa Valley, an exercise in futility that leaves enough crops for the drug to remain the country’s top export. 

The raids are announced ahead of time, and those growers who haven’t been able to pay off the police have plenty of time to harvest a lucrative yield.

This year, peaceful elections and a record tourist season have perhaps emboldened the government to take a stronger stand against the drug trade. Police chief Ashraf Rifi boasted on Tuesday that security forces had destroyed about a third of the hashish plantations and will continue the campaign “until the remaining quantities have been eradicated."

He went on to say that the drug trade was as dangerous as terrorism or Israeli espionage networks, and that the raids have “the full political and military backing from the top of the hierarchy.”

Still, many are skeptical about the government’s willingness or ability to carry through. 

Lebanon’s hashish industry, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars, is the only source of income for many families living in the rural Bekaa, and farmers have proved willing to defend their livelihood at any cost. In 2007, they launched a brazen attack against security forces using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

The northern Bekaa in particular is controlled by powerful clans that answer to neither the state nor even the powerful militant party Hezbollah, which operates as a de facto police force in most Shia areas. In April, members of the notorious Jaafar clan ambushed an army truck, killing four soldiers, as an act of revenge for the shooting of a family patriarch weeks earlier at a security checkpoint.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Abu Mohammad, a Bekaa Valley farmer, shows off his crop in 2001. Credit: Hussein Abou Kharroub / For The Times

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