LEBANON: Pro-Assad enforcers attack protesters in Beirut [Video]
Gangs of supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad armed with whips and clubs assaulted a small anti-regime protest in front of the Syrian Embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, leaving several injured.
According to accounts of the victims, mostly Lebanese activists and members of civil society organizations, gathered in front of the embassy Tuesday night to show support for those killed by Assad's gunmen in the Syrian city of Hama when groups of men began striking them and whipping them with belts.
In the video above, men and women are heard screaming as they are attacked by men in white button-down shirts, who appear to be lashing at them with unseen objects.
"It was all planned. They came, started chanting for Bashar and then started getting closer to us," said Saad Kurdi, one of the anti-regime protestors. "We didn't provoke them. As they chanted 'We sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar,' we chanted over them, 'We sacrifice for you, Syria,' and then they attacked us."
Demonstrators blamed the Lebanese Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, known for being closely aligned with the increasingly isolated Baathist regime in Damascus, for inciting Syrian laborers around the neighborhood to attack them. Lebanon is home to a large community of Syrians who work in construction and many other blue-collar jobs.
"There were some men who were guiding Syrian laborers towards us, telling them what to do," said Kurdi.
A spokeman for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Bilal Bou Dargham, denied that his party had any involvement in the attacks, adding that the violence was not organized, but rather a spontaneous clash between those who support the Syrian regime and those who don't.
"The SSNP wasn't involved in the incident last night," he said. "Some members of the SSNP youth were involved in the pro-regime demonstration because it was close to where they work."
According to the spokesman, the clashes erupted because the anti-regime demonstrators had not given the Lebanese Ministry of Interior notice that they were planning a protest, and as a consequence extra police were not assigned to the area to supervise and potentially act as a buffer between the two sides.
"We don't have a problem with people going out and demanding reform or anything. In Lebanon everyone has the right to say their opinion while respecting the opinions of others," he said.
The news of the violence spread quickly on Facebook, as activists uploaded pictures of their swollen faces and their friends' black eyes. Ghassan Makarem, 41, was severely injured and had to undergo surgery for a broken hip.
The Lebanese daily English-language newspaper Daily Star cited a Lebanese security source saying that many members of the SSNP continued to chase two cars belonging to anti-regime demonstrators to Beirut's Khaled Alwan Square, where they beat their passengers with sticks and belts.
According to one Syrian activist, Rima, 29, who spoke on condition that her last name not be given, a protestor was stabbed in the knee.
"We told the police, who arrived after the fight, about the injuries and asked them to write a report on the incident, but they didn't," she told Babylon & Beyond. "They could even see for themselves some girls icing their faces and others with bruises, but they did nothing."
Syria maintained a military presence in Lebanon between 1976 and 2005, throughout the years of the Lebanese civil war up until the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, when many Lebanese, with the help of the international community and blaming Syrian intelligence for the assassination, called for the end of Syrian involvement in Lebanon.
Lebanese politicians have remained mostly critical of recent bloodshed in Syria, for fear that Syrian troubles would spill across shared borders. Many also believed that Syrian intelligence forces hold considerable leverage over Lebanese domestic affairs vis-a-vis armed non-state actors like Hezbollah.
"We are directly affected by what is happening in Syria. Emotions are high," the SSNP spokesman said.
The attacks Tuesday night are especially revealing of Syrian-Lebanese political ties. According to the protestors, Lebanese who support Assad's regime beat fellow Lebanese who oppose it.
"What is most frustrating is that even here in Beirut, Lebanese are not being allowed to express what they think or feel," said Rima. "Beirut for Syrians was always a haven, not always safe, but a place where they could talk more freely. It is painful for me to see Beirut being suppressed or rather suppressing its own people."
The international community, and especially the United States, has exerted significant pressure on the Lebanese government to abandon its ties to Damascus. Recent events show no move in that direction.
"My friend once told me the Syrian regime will collapse in Damascus but it will stay here,” said Rima.
-- Los Angeles Times
Video: Images said to show pro-Assad groups attacking anti-Assad protestors in front of the Syrian Embassy in Beirut. Credit: YouTube.
Photo: Image said to show pro-regime assailants whipping demonstrators supporting protestors in Syria. Credit: YouTube