TIME Middle East

Syrian War Refugees Born Across the Middle East Risk Statelessness

In this Tuesday, March 11, 2014 file photo, two aid workers measure 1-year-old Syrian refugee Jawad al-Abbas at a medical clinic in the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Bilal Hussein—AP

In Lebanon, nearly 30,000 children risk a life deprived of basic rights

(BEIRUT) — Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.

It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland.

The life of a stateless person is a life without a nationality, without citizenship, without the basic documents that establish an individual’s identity and give him the rights accorded everyone else. Without a birth certificate, identity papers or other documents, even basic things like getting married, going to school or finding a job can be next to impossible.

“If you can’t prove your nationality, it means you can’t get legal documentation, can’t cross borders legally, can’t enjoy any other basic rights that citizens of a country are entitled too,” said Isabella Castrogiovanni, a senior child protection specialist with UNICEF. “So the consequences are obviously huge.”

The United Nations launched a major campaign last month to try to end statelessness for an estimated 10 million people around the world within 10 years.

Syria’s civil war is one of the major trouble spots, with more than 3 million people fleeing to neighboring countries to escape the bloodshed. For Syrian refugee women who give birth, acquiring the legal documentation with the local government is a chief concern. And yet, an estimated 70 percent of the 42,000 children born to Syrian parents in Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 remain off the books, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

That figure only relates to the 1.1 million refugees registered with UNHCR. Lebanese officials estimate there are another 500,000 unregistered Syrians in the country. It is not known how many children have been born among that population, but whatever the number, they likely have an even lower rate of registration.

The daily hardships of life as a refugee keep many Syrian parents from registering their newborns: no money, no documents, little time off from work. The process is complicated, with multiple steps that require travel from one government office to another, money for fees and, most importantly, a slew of documents. Without the parents’ marriage license, for example, the birth of a child cannot be registered. But many Syrians had to flee their homeland on short notice and so left legal papers behind, or their papers were destroyed along with their homes.

At a natal clinic in a run-down neighborhood in south Beirut on a recent dreary December morning, around a dozen Syrian mothers with children in tow sat on green plastic chairs waiting for a checkup with the resident midwife. Most of the women said they were aware of the need to register their newborn, but only around half of them had.

Outside, one mother named Khawla from the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria cradled her newborn son in her arms as her curly-haired two-year-old, Mohammed, stomped around the damp pavement.

“It took us eight months to register Mohammed. We’re thinking we may not register him,” she said, nodding at her baby boy, Yousef, asleep in a bundle of clothing in her arms. “My husband works from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day in a grocery store, so he doesn’t have time to go through the whole process. We’re waiting for a miracle to register Yousef.”

For another young mother, who gave her name as Zeinab, the barrier to registering was with the paperwork required by Lebanese authorities.

“I want to register my two youngest,” she said. “The problem is they asked for documents from Syria, but we can’t go back.”

Both women declined to give their last names out of fear of causing trouble with Lebanese authorities.

In Lebanon, the process begins when the child is born and new parents receive a birth notification from an authorized doctor or midwife. The parents must then take that, along with their own identification cards, to the local mayor to get a birth certificate for a small fee.

Then they have to register the birth certificate with a local government department handling family status records. Finally, they must register it again at another office, the provincial personal status department. Each of those steps has its own fees.

The haphazard conditions of refugee life add complications. If the parents married as refugees in Lebanon without getting the proper papers, the process hits a dead end. If a woman gives birth without an authorized midwife or doctor, she can’t even get the birth notification that starts the process.

“We’re getting to the stage where awareness about it is more widespread, but the procedures are a bit difficult to understand … and there are barriers that cause people problems,” said Jocelyn Knight, the protection coordinator for the International Rescue Committee’s office in Beirut.

“I think just because of the number of steps involved, it can be quite daunting for new parents and they’re not really sure what to do.”

The U.N. refugee agency and non-governmental organizations have been pushing to raise awareness among Syrian refugees across the Middle East of the need to register their children.

The situation is markedly better in Jordan than in Lebanon, for example. There, UNHCR says 70 percent of Syrian babies have been registered.

U.N. officials say progress has been made in the past six months to raise awareness in Lebanon.

“If you think in terms of the hope for these children to go back to Syria one day, if and when conditions allow, not having any legal document will make them like ghosts going back to their country,” UNICEF’s Castrogiovanni said.

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014 Pierre Albouy—Reuters

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Lebanon

DNA Tests Confirm Lebanon Is Holding ISIS Leader’s Child

A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
A man purported to be the reclusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reuters

The woman also detained is believed to be al-Baghdadi's ex-wife

DNA tests have confirmed that the child held by Lebanese authorities is the daughter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told domestic television channel MTV that the child’s mother is believed to have married to al-Baghdadi six years ago for a period of three months, the BBC reports.

The Iraqi government had said she was not married to the Islamist leader.

The woman, identified as Saja al-Dulaimi, tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago accompanied by two sons and a daughter when she was detained by border guards.

Machnouk claims al-Dulaimi is pregnant but the child is not al-Baghdadi’s.

“We conducted DNA tests on her and the daughter, which showed she was the mother of the girl, and that the girl is [al-Baghdadi’s] daughter, based on DNA from Baghdadi from Iraq,” Machnouk told MTV.

Machnouk said the children were staying at a care center while al-Dulaimi was being interrogated.

[BBC]

TIME Lebanon

The ISIS Leader’s Wife May Not Have Been Arrested After All

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
This file image made from video posted on a militant website Saturday, July 5, 2014, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq. AP

Some say the woman has no relation to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The identity of Saja al-Dulaimi, the purported wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is being disputed.

The woman tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago, accompanied by a 4-year-old boy. She was arrested in a coordinated operation involving agencies from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, an unidentified intelligence source told CNN.

Her detention was widely reported, but different sources now claim that the woman is actually al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife, or a powerful figure within ISIS, or even unrelated.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry says that al-Baghdadi’s wives are called Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal Al-Qaisi and that the detained woman is neither of these.

The Lebanese authorities have made no official comment, and the CIA has not responded to claims that it was involved in the capture. ISIS members on social media deny that al-Baghdadi’s wife has been arrested.

Read more at CNN

TIME Middle East

Wife of ISIS Leader Could Be ‘Best Source of Information’ About ISIS

A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
A man purported to be the reclusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reuters

Saja al-Dulaimi is being held by the Lebanese military with her child

In what could be one of the biggest breaks yet in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Lebanese officials said on Tuesday they had arrested a wife and child of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the two tried to cross over the Syrian border late last month using false identity documents. The Lebanese military has detained the pair and is in coordination with foreign intelligence agencies,” according to Lebanon’s as-Safir newspaper.

If that is correct, intelligence agents from the U.S. to Iraq might have stumbled on a goldmine.

The woman, whom Iraqi and Lebanese officials identified as Saja al-Dulaimi, is not the first wife of a fugitive leader to flee her husband’s territory; the wives of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi fled across the borders of their countries before the capture of their husbands, fearing they would be arrested or killed in the attacks on the regimes of their husbands.

But that is where the similarities end, say some experts. Saddam’s family, who now live in Amman, Jordan, and Gaddafi’s wife, who found refuge in Algiers and finally Oman, live in freedom and keep a low profile.

MORE: Feds Say ISIS May Target U.S. Military at Home

But Dulaimi, an Iraqi and one of Baghdadi’s three wives, could provide crucial details in custody about her husband, as the U.S. and allies wage a fierce bombing campaign to crush ISIS. With so few known facts about Baghdadi, “she is the best source of information about him and about the dynamics of ISIS that anyone has had up until now,” says Sajjan Gohel, International Security Director at the Asia Pacific Foundation in London. He added that the fact that Lebanon waited 10 days before announcing her arrest suggests that they were squeezing Dulaimi for information before letting ISIS know they had her in custody, perhaps to give the U.S. and its allies time to plan surprise operations against Baghdadi. “Until now the flow of information has been always directed by ISIS,” says Gohel.

Among the details the U.S. and Iraq might find interesting — and which Dulaimi could be well-placed to know — is where Baghdadi is now, what routes he uses to travel around ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, and whether he was injured in an airstrike last month, as reports suggested. It was unclear on Tuesday whether the child arrested with Dulaimi was a boy or a girl. But the very fact that Dulaimi has fled Syria might suggest that ISIS is under such severe pressure, that Baghdadi has sent his loved ones to safety elsewhere, or that his wife decided herself to flee the war. Dulaimi was among 150 women prisoners the Syrian government freed last March in exchange for 13 nuns captured by Islamic militant insurgents of the al-Nusra Front.

Little is known about Dulaimi’s own role in ISIS; CNN on Tuesday quoted a Lebanese security force describing her as “a powerful figure heavily involved in ISIS.” Now, she could also find herself a valuable bargaining chip in the turmoil rocking the region, as governments and insurgent forces trade firepower and prisoners. Reuters on Tuesday quoted a Lebanese security official saying Dulaimi was “a powerful card to apply pressure” on militants, who are not directly connected to ISIS, to free 27 members of Lebanon’s security forces.

As long as Dulaimi remains in custody, however, she joins a growing number of close relatives of terrorist leaders who have paid the price for their loved ones’ actions.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks in 2001, several relatives of Osama Bin Laden fled Afghanistan, some across the border to Iran. “They stayed there for many years,” Gohel says. “The assumption is that whatever intelligence they provided was never shared with the international community.” And after U.S. Navy SEALs assassinated Bin Laden in May, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that country arrested the al-Qaeda leader’s wives and children who lived with him there, keeping them under house arrest for a year before deporting them to Saudi Arabia.

Read next: Wife of ISIS Leader Detained in Lebanon

TIME Lebanon

Wife of ISIS Leader Detained in Lebanon

The woman is believed to be one of the wives of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

(BEIRUT) — Two senior Lebanese officials say authorities have detained a wife and son of the leader of the Islamic State group.

A military official says the woman and her son were detained about 10 days ago using fake identification cards.

Both officials refused to give any details about the woman who is believed to be one of the wives of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s reclusive leader.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The military official said Tuesday that the woman is a Syrian citizen.

The Lebanese daily As-Safir was the first to break the news, saying they were detained near a border crossing point with Syria. It added that the arrest was in “coordination with foreign intelligence agencies.”

TIME movies

Review: In Fury, Brad Pitt Wins World War II, Again

Columbia Pictures

The Inglourious Basterds star returns for another tour in this grisly account of an American tank crew in the war's last month

Correction appended: Oct. 16, 2014

“Done much killing?” tough Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) asks winsome newbie Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). “No,” Ellison answers timidly. “You will,” the big guy spits out.

He’s not kidding. Fury, writer-director David Ayer’s war film to end all war films (fingers crossed), begins with Wardaddy killing a German cavalry officer with a knife, then cutting his eye out as a souvenir. It ends, a draining two hours and 10 minutes later, in a battle that makes the Alamo look like a pie dessert — à la mode.

This is War Movie 101: all fighting, nearly all the time. Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down pictured a similarly unrelenting siege (Somalia), as did, in a fantasy landscape, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Rohan). Saving Private Ryan traced an American unit’s trajectory across World War II–era France, and Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, once that film got past the fatal hazing of basic training, submerged the viewer in the Vietnam nightmare as seen by its edgy American invaders. Fury doesn’t come close to the achievement of those edifying cinematic ordeals, let alone to Samuel Maoz’s harrowing Israeli film Lebanon, which summoned a claustrophobic psychopathy by setting virtually all its action inside an Israeli tank. But Ayer’s movie has the admirable ambition of showing how even the Greatest Generation could brutalize and be brutalized by war.

Brad Pitt, you’ll recall, already won World War II in Inglourious Basterds. Hell, last year he won World War Z. So how can he and the near victorious GIs of the 2nd Armored Division be established as underdogs in a movie set in Germany in April 1945, just a few weeks before Hitler would blow his brains out in a bunker? Ayer’s solution: put ‘em in a tank, where their rumbling weapon was far outclassed by the enemy’s. Henry Ford produced the Americans’ thin-skinned Sherman tank; Ferdinand Porsche designed the Germans’ much larger, sturdier Tiger. It was, essentially, the Tin Lizzie vs. the Mercedes-Benz Super Sport.

And though World War II would shortly end, the U.S. soldiers couldn’t take it easy, like college seniors in the final term before graduation. Their mission was to roll through Germany, whose Nazi leaders called for every citizen to fight the invaders to their death. To the Americans, each person they meet is a potential sniper; every man, woman and child is cannon fodder. Some of the soldiers became efficient killing machines. Some of them may have liked it.

Norman, who looks about 12 and takes most of the movie to grow stubble on his sweet peach face, doesn’t like killing, doesn’t want it and, when he’s drafted as Wardaddy’s gunner, doesn’t know how to do it. His first job is to scrape the remains of his predecessor off the insides of the tank, nicknamed Fury. He is the token innocent, the audience surrogate, almost the girl joining a quartet of grizzled veterans.

Because their characters are reduced to their religious, ethnic or lowlife stereotypes, they may as well be called Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Mex (Michael Peña) and Animal (Jon Bernthal). Their tour has taken them to hell and halfway back, which makes them the rude tutors in Norman’s life-or-death indoctrination. “The war’s gotta end, soon,” Wardaddy says, in one of the boilerplate truisms that serve as this movie’s dialogue. “But before it ends, a lotta people gotta die.”

Sometimes, even a little death is a lot. Conquering one village, Wardaddy and Norman enter a house that holds two frightened young German women, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg) and Irma (Anamaria Marinca, star of the Romanian prize winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Irma makes lunch for Wardaddy, who sends Norman off to the bedroom with Emma in what may be their mutual deflowering. The assignation is meant to be tender, but the viewer has to wonder if Emma (or for that matter, Norman) is a willing participant, and if the scene doesn’t carry the lingering toxicity of sexual violence. Then the other tank troopers barge in, and Animal uncorks a flood of insults that amount to assault. By velvet glove or iron fist, barbarism rules.

That, Ayer would argue, is just war, daddy. And in staging his big battle sequences, he brings Fury to fitful life. The attack of three Shermans on a giant Tiger is choreographed for maximum impact, as is the looming face-off between Wardaddy’s crippled tank and about 300 SS troops marching toward it. Pitt, who at 50 still looks great with his shirt off, has the gruff charisma to play a dauntless soldier with killer courage and a vestigial streak of humanity.

He carries a film that could stumble under the burden of its clichés. You know that when one character who’s chomped out bits of Norman’s callow butt for most of the movie finally makes gentle amends, he’ll be the next to die. And that another character, having faced death countless times by German fire or misadventure, will survive through an act of enemy kindness. World War II was a historical event, but also a movie genre, and Fury occasionally prints the legend. The rest of it is plenty grim and grisly. Audience members may feel like prisoners of war forced to watch a training-torture film.

The original version of this story misspelled the name of Brad Pitt’s character. It is Don “Wardaddy” Collier.

TIME faith

The Hajj Airlift You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Hajj
Pilgrims arriving at Mecca's Grand Mosque on Oct. 10, 2013, during the hajj pilgrimage Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

After thousands of pilgrims were stranded in Beirut on their way to Mecca, one American diplomat saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand.

The annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca kicks off this week, with some 2 million people expected to join. The religious occasion is considered to be the largest annual mass gathering in the world and is, unsurprisingly, accompanied by a litany of logistical hurdles, ranging from transportation to accommodations.

But it could be worse: in 1952, the problem was particularly acute. As TIME reported then, far more pilgrims were headed for Saudi Arabia, where Mecca is located, than had been expected, in part because Saudi Arabia had waived an entrance fee for pilgrims that year. As a result, flights from Beirut–a common layover–were overbooked, and thousands of people found themselves stranded in Beirut on their way to Mecca.

One American diplomat in Lebanon, Harold Minor, saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand and, in so doing, also attempt to mend the U.S.’s then-shaky relations with the Arab world. Here’s TIME’s account of the ensuing “miracle in Washington:”

Minor promptly dashed off a “night action” (most urgent) cable to Washington, pointing out that here was a real chance for the U.S. to make friends in the Arab world. Something of a miracle then happened: the State Department got the point. At Rhein-Main airport in Wiesbaden, Germany, at Wheelus Field in Tripoli, at Orly Field in Paris, U.S. airmen were suddenly alerted for special duty. Three days later, the first of 13 huge U.S. C-54s landed at Beirut’s airport. Next morning Operation Hajj was under way…

Five days later the last of 3,763 stranded pilgrims was loaded aboard the last flight. The airlift had traveled a total of 121,800 miles. Some of the U.S. airmen had spent 27 out of 40 hours in the air, but the trips had been more than worth it. The pilgrims’ airlift had done more good than any other act of the U.S.’s otherwise fumbling and unimaginative action and inaction in the Middle East. It was the one success U.S. diplomacy could claim in a week of continued crises.

The operation was reportedly a huge success and drew praise from Arab leaders and TIME readers alike. Wrote one reader, Nashville resident Robert Alvarez:

What a thrill—to read of our big, bumbling State Department actually showing a little imagination. This is the kind of thing they ought to be doing every day in the year—instead of once a decade . . .

Read the 1952 story about Operation Hajj: Airlift for Allah

TIME Middle East

In Photos: Injured Syrian Refugees Adjust to Life With Prosthetics

One in 30 Syrian refugees in Lebanon was injured in the civil war

Some 200,000 people have died in Syria’s ongoing civil war—and there’s no end in sight. But it’s the impact on those who make it out alive and injured—often severely—that can sometimes be forgotten.

More than 3 million Syrians are registered as refugees outside their home country, the latest U.N. figures show. Turkey, Iraq and Jordan have all taken in hundreds of thousands of them, but nearly 1.2 million have crossed into Lebanon. According to an April report by Handicap International, one in 30 Syrian refugees in Lebanon had been injured, which means that tens of thousands of people there are carrying permanent scars from the war.

Irish photographer Andrew McConnell has been based in Beirut for about two and a half years. During that time he has frequently photographed along the Syrian border and covered the refugee crisis in Lebanon from its earliest stages, watching the numbers grow from a few thousand refugees largely hidden in society to a mass that is now equal to more than a fifth of Lebanon’s pre-war population, spread throughout urban areas and informal settlements.

Earlier this year, when McConnell was on contract working alongside UNHCR and a partner organization called the World Rehabilitation Fund, he met more than 20 refugees who were receiving rehabilitation treatment, including prosthetics.

McConnell was moved by stories from people like Fatima, a 15-year-old living at a tented settlement near Tripoli, who had been traveling with her brother and father to Homs in 2011 when a bomb fell on the road. The next thing Fatima knew, she was waking up in the hospital without her right leg. She became depressed after being provided with an ill-fitting prosthetic, but her mood lifted after receiving a better-fitting one from the WRF.

He also met 15-year-old Nawaf at a rehabilitation center in Tripoli, who was severely burned when a bomb hit his house near Hama. His uncle rushed him to a nearby field hospital but doctors had to amputate his right arm above the elbow. The boy later received a prosthetic arm and is learning a range of moments, and is slowly becoming more self-reliant. But, McConnell notes, “you just wonder what’s ahead for him, trying to cope with this new reality.”

But it was Hussein, a 10-year-old living in a collective shelter in Tripoli, with whom McConnell spent the most time. Hussein had been presumed dead after a bomb hit his home in Syria, but was found unconscious at the morgue the next day as bodies were being prepared for burial. The boy received two artificial limbs after doctors amputated both legs above the knee.

“At first, he was very apprehensive about this foreigner and having his picture taken and telling his story,” says McConnell. “He was deeply traumatized but I remember he had probably the most state-of-the-art prosthetics that I saw.” After spending more time with the boy and as Hussein became more accustomed to his new legs, his mood changed and he opened up a bit. “I remember pacing alongside him as he learned how to walk again.”

TIME Israel

Missiles from Lebanon are Landing in Israel—But Hizballah Isn’t the Suspect

Israeli security forces stand next to damage caused by Katyusha style rocket fired from Lebanon near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on July 11, 2014.
Israeli security forces stand next to damage caused by Katyusha style rocket fired from Lebanon near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on July 11, 2014. JINI/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Lebanon's most fearsome anti-Israel militant group has stayed out of the Gaza crisis. That could change if Israel overreacts to rockets coming from Lebanon

Israel has a lot of enemies in the region, so it’s not surprising that it is taking fire from multiple sides—including from southern Lebanon, the source of at least four missile launches into northern Israel in recent days. What is surprising is that none of those attacks originated from Israel’s archenemy Hizballah, the powerful Lebanese militia that dominates the country’s south.

Some 11 rockets landed in Israeli territory. No one was hurt. At least two failed to launch, according to Lebanese military accounts quoted in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, and one never made it into Israel. Not far from the United Nations-monitored Blue Line that demarcates the border between Lebanon and Israel, Lebanese bomb defusers. were able to dismantle two other rockets before they could be launched. All in all, the rocket attacks appear to be the work of amateurs driven to action by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, says Lebanese political analyst Kamel Wazne, and not that of an organized militant group. “If Hizballah decided to launch a war on Israel, well, Israel already knows what that looks like,” he says. (Hizballah has not commented on the attacks.)

On Wednesday July 16, the Lebanese military announced that it had apprehended two Palestinian brothers who had admitted to launching one of the attacks, as well as a Lebanese man who was implicated in the first rocket volley on Friday. Since the attacks started Friday, the Lebanese army has engaged in a concerted effort to prevent any further cross-border attacks by increasing patrols in the area and reaching out to the U.N. peacekeepers that have been in place in south Lebanon since the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah. Lebanon, including Hizballah, does not want to see another war with Israel, says Wazne. “There is a consensus in Lebanon that no missiles should be launched from Lebanese territory, and that these acts do not serve the Lebanese interest or the Palestinian cause.”

One of the three detained men appears to be affiliated with a radical Lebanese group, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya that has gained ground among Lebanese Sunni militants aligned with rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hizballah, in turn, backs Assad. The attackers, say Wazne, could have been motivated by a desire to deflect Israeli attention away from Gaza and towards Hizballah in an effort undermine the group’s support for Assad. Meanwhile Hamas, the Palestinian militant group battling Israel from Gaza, has also claimed responsibility for an attack from Lebanon, but it is not clear that it could have achieved such a feat, considering its limited presence on the ground.

All of which begs the question: why isn’t Hizballah getting involved in the Gaza conflict, which intensified on July 17 as Israel announced a ground invasion of the enclave? For a militant group whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, uses every opportunity to decry what he calls Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, Hizballah has been remarkably quiet since Israel launched its operation in Gaza a week ago. Hizballah’s standard rhetoric is that it is always ready for another confrontation with Israel, but it is just as likely that the militant group is keeping a low profile in order to better focus its efforts on Syria.

It’s not that Hizballah couldn’t handle two fronts at once, says Wazne, who has close contacts in Hizballah’s leadership. He believes the group is keeping a close eye on the events in Gaza, but as long as Israel does not attack Lebanon, it sees no need to get involved. The real risk, he cautions, is if Israel overreacts to the missiles being lobbed over the Lebanese border. Israel has met every incoming rocket with a barrage of its own into south Lebanon, but so far there has been no casualties or damages on either side. Lebanese Foreign Affairs minister Gebran Bassil threatened to lodge a complaint with the U.N. Security Council over Israel’s excessive response against Lebanon. “Someone is trying to use Lebanon as a launching pad to respond to Israel over events in Gaza. This is not the policy of the state, and it is taking measures against these sporadic groups.” he told reporters Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean Israel can attack Lebanon.”

If it does, notes Wazne, Hizballah will be ready.

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