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February 9, 2016 No.
1226

Hizbullah Faces Criticism In Lebanon For Besieging Madaya: Its Starvation Of Syrians Recalls Past Crimes Of Mass Extermination In History

Introduction

For the past seven months, the Syrian town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus, has been besieged by Hizbullah and forces of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The town's plight has made headlines lately because of numerous media reports that its residents are malnourished and even starving to death because food and humanitarian aid are not being allowed in.

Madaya is included in a six-month ceasefire agreement between rebel forces and the besiegers, under UN oversight. The agreement, which came into force on September 20, 2015, stipulated that humanitarian aid be allowed into the city of Al-Zabadani, also besieged by Hizbullah and the Syrian regime, and that wounded fighters and civilians can be evacuated from it. In return, Shi'ite civilians will be allowed to leave the towns of Fu'ah and Kefraya, located in Shi'ite enclaves in the Rif Idlib area, which are besieged by rebel forces. As to Madaya, which is near Al-Zabadani, the agreement states that the siege on it will be lifted, humanitarian aid will be allowed in, and the seriously wounded, to be identified by the Red Crescent under UN oversight, will be evacuated.[1]

Humanitarian aid was indeed allowed into Madaya on October 18, 2015, and again some three months later, on January 11, 2016. However, despite the UN's wish, as expressed by United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, to evacuate from the town some 400 malnourished civilians,[2] and despite reports that 16 people have died of starvation,[3] the siege on Madaya continues, and Hizbullah has even reportedly escalated it and has not allowed any evacuation.[4]

As noted, Madaya has received much attention in the global media, including in the Middle East and Lebanese media. Images of starving civilians, among them children and the elderly, have been circulated widely via media and social networks, with blame being placed on the Syrian regime and Hizbullah. Hizbullah, for its part, denied the accusations, saying that the photos had been fabricated and circulated as a smear campaign.

Hizbullah's denials had no effect on the organization's critics in Lebanon, including both the March 14 Forces and independent Shi'ite activists and journalists. Both harshly criticized it, accusing it of perpetrating crimes against humanity and of starving an entire town to death, and compared these actions to Nazi crimes and other acts of mass extermination in history. Hizbullah's opponents in Lebanon argued that these deeds exposed the organization's immorality as well as its hypocrisy in claiming to protect the weak and oppressed, and that they tarnished the image of the entire resistance axis. Anti-Hizbullah articles and cartoons also appeared in the Saudi press, which supports the March 14 Forces and is known for its hostility towards the organization.

This report reviews Hizbullah's denial of the accusations against it regarding the siege of Madaya, and the harsh criticism of Hizbullah in Lebanese media.

Hizbullah Denies Accusations It Is Starving Madaya To Death

As stated, Hizbullah denied that it was besieging Madaya and was responsible for starving its residents. In a January 7, 2016 statement posted on the Hizbullah-owned Al-'Ahd website, the organization complained that it was the victim of "an organized campaign aimed at harming the image of the resistance." It even questioned the authenticity of some of the shocking photos of starving people being circulated by media and on social networks, claiming that some of them were not from Madaya at all. It added that the accusations against Hizbullah were nothing but "organized libel and fabricated allegations being deliberately spread by the biased media and press of the Sa'ud family [the Saudi royal family]" and that "these relentless media campaigns, whose goal is well known, constantly take every opportunity to hurl groundless accusations [at others] without backing them up with evidence or proof..."

Hizbullah blamed the situation in Madaya on militants within the town, saying in its statement: "Responsibility for what is happening in Madaya rests solely with the armed terrorist groups that are holding the town hostage, and with external elements that support these militants..." It continued: "On October 18, 2015, dozens of trucks were allowed into [the towns of] Madaya, Serghaya and Baqin, loaded with food and medical supplies that were supposed to last for months. The same quantity [of supplies] was also brought into [the Shi'ite towns of] Fu'ah and Kefraya... It is the leaders of the armed gangs who are controlling [the distribution] of the food. They are hoarding it in their warehouses in the [town] center, stealing it from the populace and selling it to residents who can afford to pay. Madaya was not part of the battle until fighting erupted in nearby Al-Zabadani, when militants [began] using it as a base from which to launch operations against the Syrian army and Hizbullah, with the aim of changing the course of the war. The armed terrorist groups are using the residents, of which there are no more than 23,000, as human shields and as a political bargaining chip, as part of their deceptive media campaign. So far there have been no deaths [of starvation] in Madaya. Many civilians are attempting to leave it, but the armed groups are not letting them..."[5]

Hizbullah deputy-secretary-general Na'im Qassem likewise said that "false claims" were being made against the organization, and accused militants inside Madaya of starving the populace. He added: "We are committed [to the agreement] and are implementing it fully. It is the other side that is not meeting [its obligations]."[6]

Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV also rallied to the organization's defense, airing a report from inside Madaya featuring several residents stating that armed militants controlled the town and had appropriated the humanitarian supplies and divided them amongst themselves. These residents also attested that the "terror organizations" controlled the supply storerooms, one of which was inside the home of a senior commander, and that these organizations were selling supplies to the townspeople at "unbelievable" prices.[7]

Syrian opposition sources said that these residents had been bribed to say these things in exchange for food and permission to leave the town.[8]     

March 14 Forces: Madaya Will Remain An Indelible Mark Of Shame On Hizbullah's Forehead

The siege of Madaya and the starving of its people, and Hizbullah's refusal to acknowledge its responsibility for the situation, evoked harsh condemnations from Hizbullah's political rivals in Lebanon.

Sa'd Al-Hariri: Madaya Is Being Executed With The Sword Of Starvation

Sa'd Al-Hariri, former Lebanese prime minister and current head of the Al-Mustaqbal political camp, stated that Madaya was being executed. On January 7, 2016, he tweeted: "Two months of siege and of withholding food and medicine from 40,000 civilians in Madaya. Where is the world's conscience? The siege of Madaya is the execution of a city by the sword of starvation."[9]

 
Al-Hariri's tweet

Likewise, March 14 Forces general secretariat called the Madaya siege a crime against humanity, and urged the international community to help its residents and to prosecute the Syria regime and its allies - hinting at Hizbullah. It stated in a communiqu├®: "The siege of starvation on the Syrian city of Madaya reaches the level of a crime against humanity, and requires the international community to take immediate steps to ensure that the necessary humanitarian aid is delivered to the people of this town, and that they are saved. Furthermore, the international legal agencies must take the necessary steps [against] the ones who are responsible for this crime, among the Syrian regime's leaders, allies, and supporters, and bring them before the competent international judicial authorities for punishment. The Lebanese, who in principle oppose Hizbullah's participation in the war on the Syrian people because [this war] violates the [Lebanese] constitution and the legitimate international resolutions, see Hizbullah's participation [in this war], and especially its besieging and starving [of populations], as a mark of shame that contradicts the political ethics that Hizbullah purports to uphold."[10]

Lebanese MP: Hizbullah Is Worse Than Nazi Regime

Druze MP Marwan Hamadeh said that no one who participates in the siege of Madaya, or who fails to protest against it, should be allowed to call themselves part of the "resistance and struggle," and added: "Hizbullah [aka] the Islamic Republic [of Iran] and the Syrian regime should be ashamed of themselves. Moreover, the world, and its envoy Staffan de Mistura, should also be ashamed, in light of what is happening in the Syrian town of Madaya. We have reverted to something more despicable than Nazism, Stalinism, and Zionism; this requires that we revoke the title of resistance and struggle from any person, organization, or nation participating in the siege of Madaya or remaining silent regarding this horrendous crime against humanity."[11]

Al-Mustaqbal Editorial: The World Must Not Remain Silent In Light Of Madaya's Siege And Starvation

Criticism of Hizbullah was also expressed in the pro-March 14 Forces Lebanese press. An editorial in the daily Al-Mustaqbal also claimed that Madaya was a victim of the Syrian regime and called on the world to not remain silent: "The unjust siege on the town Madaya and the nearly 40,000 residents remaining there does no honor to the regime of the tyrant dictator Bashar Al-Assad, nor to his supporters and allies. Moreover, it is a scarlet letter that will remain on the breast of them all until the Day of Judgment... The strangled and besieged Madaya, which was 'sentenced to death by the sword of starvation,' as [Al-Mustaqbal Stream] Chair Sa'd Al-Hariri said, is a victim of the Assad regime and its ally Hizbullah, just as it is a victim of the international community's dodging the fulfillment of its simplest human and political duty towards this miserable town and its residents and towards the Syrian disaster in general. Madaya is a cry of pain in the face of the entire world, which stands by and witnesses, at the dawn of the third millennium, a sight reminiscent of the acts of horror, crimes, and genocides of the very distant past."[12]


"Hizbullah" feeds "Madaya" residents to the Grim Reaper (Source: Alwatan.com.sa, February 3, 2016)

Al-Mustaqbal: The Fruits Reaped By Hizbullah In Its "Holy War" In Syria Are The Children Of Madaya

Lebanese columnist 'Ali Al-Husseini wrote in Al-Mustaqbal that "Hizbullah and its media outlets are showing extremism and arrogance regarding a town whose population is lining up in preparation for death. [This] party [ Hizbullah] sows hatred in its public, misleading it into thinking that this is a holy war, the winds of which might kill them if they do not reap its 'fruits' at the earliest opportunity. These fruits... today are the corpses of children, whose bodies, ravaged by famine before the January frost painted them blue and turned them into lifeless wooden planks, bear no indication that they were once alive... Hizbullah boasts that it was born and reared on foundations that are religious, cultural, and educational, and claims to belong to a philosophical school that champions the slogan 'We reject humiliation'... and therefore it is despicable for it to use all these actions and operations against unarmed civilians who share its geographical space and language. The surprising thing is that its members never used such operations when they fought the Israelis in the South..."[13]  

Al-Mustaqbal Columnist: Hizbullah Is Like Dracula Sucking The Syrians' Blood

In a particularly caustic article in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal titled "Dracula in the Arab Lands," Lebanese poet and literary critic Paul Shaul compared Hizbullah to Dracula sucking the Syrians' blood: "Behold Hizbullah, the agent of [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and [Iran's Islamic] Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has, since it entered Syria, played the role of Dracula sucking the Syrians' blood, as if the blood of young Shi'ites or Lebanese and Arabs, or its murders, was not enough for it... Hizbullah has launched a policy of extermination and expulsion... a major [forced population] transfer! [It has implemented] a policy of ethnic, racial, and sectarian expulsion, in order to destroy Syria's demography, and to empty the land of its inhabitants! It 'appropriated' their blood and sucked it, as Dracula sucked his victims' blood.

"It carried out these crimes against humanity in several regions, until chance brought it, as an ally of Syria's spillers of blood, to besiege 40,000 Syrians in Madaya... a barbaric siege that is as deranged as the deeds of Israel, Putin, and Hitler. They are starving Madaya out of hatred and sectarianism. And they [the Madayans] are turning into skeletons... The party of Iran eats human flesh; what is the difference between the bloodsucking Dracula and a party that gorges itself on the flesh of people and animals?"[14]


The turbaned "Party of Iran" vulture awaits the death of the starving man of "Madaya." (Image: Aleqt.com, January 8, 2016)

 Lebanese Writer: "Hizbullah Is Starving Syria's Children"

Lebanese writer Ahmad 'Ayyash wrote under the headline "Hizbullah Is Starving Syria's Children" in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar: "All Hizbullah's media attempts to change the picture of the siege on the Syrian [town of]  Madaya and its starving residents have been unsuccessful. This is because the photos of children in this unfortunate city clearly refelected [the disaster] that befell it after seven consecutive months of siege by the Syrian regime forces and Hizbullah...

"This is how Hizbullah, whose secretary-general Nasrallah boasts of being a soldier in the army of the Iranian Rule of the Jurisprudent, won a new reputation as the starver of Syria's children, to go with its reputation as a supporter of the dictator Bashar Al-Assad.[15]

 

 
Hizbullah leader Nasrallah crushes infant "Madaya" (Image: Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, January 10, 2016)

Lebanese Journalist: The Lebanese Government, Some Of Whose Ministers Are From Hizbullah, Is Becoming An Accomplice To War Crimes In Syria

In a January 8, 2016 article on the Lebanese website Now Lebanon, which is known for its anti-Hizbullah positions, Lebanese political researcher Ziad Majed, a cofounder of the Democratic Left Movement in Lebanon, wrote: "Two hours away from Beirut, Syrian men, women, and children are hungry for bread, and some are dying of starvation... Two hours away from Beirut, a war crime is thus being carried out. This is not the first war crime in Syria; it was preceded by many crimes like it, carried out by the Assad regime and its militias across Syria...

"But this time [these crimes] are being carried out by Lebanese youths whose party has ministers in the Lebanese government as well as a highly influential parliamentary faction. [They are doing so] in the sense that Hizbullah, by participating in the siege and starvation of Madaya, is making the Lebanese authorities partially responsible for this crime. Likewise, [Hizbullah] is placing the onus of this barbaric crime upon many Lebanese who support it [i.e. Hizbullah], stripping them of the option of using the arguments - arguments refuted from the outset - that justified its intervention in Syria in 2012.

'Defending borders' is not accomplished by starving Syrian children; 'defending the shrine of Zaynab' does not require snipers to fire on mothers seeking milk and flour... As for the new argument [used] to justify the crime of Madaya, Al-Zabadani  and Baqin - that is, the [anti-Assad forces' purported] siege on the towns of Nabal and Al-Zahraa, or Fu'ah and Kefraya - this is no less refuted... first of all, because it is not Hizbullah's business to besiege any Syrian community in response to a siege on another Syrian community, and second of all because the response to a crime, if one was committed, is not the commission of a more serious crimeÔǪ"[16]

Hizbullah Criticized By Lebanese Shi'ites: We Oppose Hizbullah's Atrocities

Independent Shi'ite elements in Lebanon, considered anti-Hizbullah,[17] were also critical, condemning the siege and stating that it violated all human values and that Hizbullah does not represent the Shi'ites. They also criticized Shi'ite clerics for remaining silent in the face of Hizbullah's actions. 

Communiqu├® By Shi'ite Personages From Lebanon: The Shi'a Renounces The 'Holocaust' Committed By Hizbullah In Syria

As stated, in January 2016 several prominent independent Shi'ite figures, among them Supreme Shi'ite Islamic Council member Mustafa Hani Fahs, Shi'ite journalist Muhammad Hassan Al-Amin who is editor of the Lebanese anti-Hizbullah website Janoubia.com, Arab Center for Dialogue director Sheikh Abbas Al-Jawhari, and others, published a "Madaya Declaration" condemning Hizbullah's besieging of Madaya for political objectives and explaining that by doing so Hizbullah was not representing the Shi'ites.

Al-Amin explained that it was decided to publish the declaration in light of senior Shi'ite clerics' and officials' failure to speak out about the Madaya events, and added that its planners and signatories wanted to clarify that Hizbullah and Hizbullah's actions were not representative of the views of all Shi'ites.[18]

The Madaya Declaration states: "In light of the atrocity of the policy of killing and of besieging to death that is being implemented by the regime and its supporters against the residents [of Madaya], and based on human sentiment, on Arab responsibility, and on Islamic and historical fraternity, we raise our voices in solidarity with the residents of the town of Madaya, and we reject the use of the language of starvation, killing, siege, and subjugation. We hereby announce that:

 
The Madaya Declaration (Source: Facebook.com)

"We absolutely condemn the term 'balance of death' and the siege, particularly when its outcome is tragic because bringing in food, water and medicines is banned, with the aim of accomplishing political objectives. We view this as a violation of all human values, Arab understandings, and human rights conventions. We oppose Lebanese nationals' participation in killings and siege against our brothers in Syria on the pretext of 'wiping out the terrorists'... We hereby declare that the Shi'a denounces the Syrian 'holocaust' and its outcomes, and finds these unacceptable and condemnable by any standard.

"We demand the immediate withdrawal of the armed Lebanese nationals who are involved in the war in Syria, particularly from areas facing Lebanese soil such as Al-Zabadani and Al-Qalamoun. We maintain that what is happening [there] is the uprooting of the people of this region with the aim of creating despicable demographic shifts that will destroy the unity of the socio-historical fabric shared by the Syrian and Lebanese peoples, and will damage neighborly relations and shared life for decades to come. Therefore, we do not agree that any Lebanese national participate in these despicable crimes."[19]

Lebanese Journalist: I Am Ashamed To Be Lebanese And Shi'ite, And Am Ashamed To Eat

At the same time, the Lebanese website Janoubia.com, operated by 'Ali Al-Amin, published a series of articles by Shi'ite writers harshly criticizing Hizbullah. Al-Amin himself penned an article stating that Hizbullah had tarnished the image of the resistance, in which he said: "Hizbullah knows that the image of the resistance has been tarnished by its leadership... Hizbullah released a communiqu├® responding to those who condemned it for besieging Madaya and starving its children, in which it claimed that the protests by the starving people and by those enraged at the murder of dozens by means of the weapon of starvation were nothing but 'an organized campaign aimed at blackening the image of the resistance'...

"Didn't the writers of this communiqu├® consider for a single minute that their own child or children could fall victim to a similar siege? ... Can any impudence be greater?... Hizbullah merely fears for the image of the resistance - the image of a young, beautiful idea that is now one of an old man drinking the blood of his opponents and starving the children of those who refuse to leave their land to him and depart... [In Hizbullah's eyes,] killing 10,000 or 20,000 men, women, and children is a fair price for eliminating 600 armed men... [In that case,] who is blackening the image of the resistance? The starving people who cried out and posted photos of their children and their dead? Or Hizbullah, drunk on blood and no longer knowing right from wrong? ...

"I feel ashamed - not just because I am Lebanese, not [just] because I am Shi'ite, and not [just] because I am a resident of South [Lebanon] like some of the young people who are starving the children of Madaya. [I feel ashamed] because I had lunch before writing this article. I feel ashamed for filling my belly. Forgive us, people of Madaya. Forgive us, and do not blame us for the actions of the witless among us."[20]

Hizbullah Supporters, Opponents Clash On Social Media

The argument between the pro- and anti-Hizbullah camps was also evident on social media. Thus, for example, Shi'ite opponents of Hizbullah launched the "Lebanese Unrelated To Hizbullah" hashtag. One tweet using the hashtag stated: "I refuse to be party to the blood[letting] of the Syrian people. I refuse to make Lebanon an arena to implement Iran's expansionist ambitions."[21]

The Facebook hashtag "Madaya Dying Of Starvation" featured an image of an emaciated Bashar Al-Assad, Hassan Nasrallah, President Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with the caption: "I wish that just as they starved the residents of Madaya, they will die of starvation..."[22]  

On January 7, 2016, Shi'ite Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich, who is close to the March 14 Forces, posted on his Facebook page an image of Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah surrounded by starving children, with the text: "Yes, yes, the path to Jerusalem runs through the empty stomachs of Madaya's children."[23]


Poster mocking the Hizbullah flag: "The Starvation Party: Iranian Terrorism in Syria and Lebanon" (Source: Facebook.com, January 9, 2016)

On the other hand, Hizbullah supporters launched the hashtag "Solidarity With The Madaya Siege," under which they taunted those besieged in the town and posted photos of the large repasts they themselves enjoyed. However, the widespread criticism that this sparked appears to have caused many to delete the images.

 
Tweets featuring food to taunt those besieged in Madaya (Source: Alaraby.co.uk, January 9, 2016)

 


(Source: Twitter.com, January 8, 2015)

 
(Source: Facebook.com, January 8, 2016)

 

*Dr. M. Terdiman and E. B. Picali are research fellows at MEMRI.

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Orient-news.net, September 19, 2016.

[2] Champress.net, January 12, 2016.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), January 30, 2016.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 26, 2016.

[5] Alahednews.com.lb, January 7, 2016.

[6] Assafir.com, January 9, 2016.

[7] Almanar.com.lb, January 10, 2016.

[8] Orient-news.net, January 10, 2016.

[9] Twitter.com/Saadhariri, January 7, 2016.

[10] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 8, 2016.

[11] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 8, 2016.

[12] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 8, 2016.

[13] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 9, 2016.

[14] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 17, 2016.

[15] Al-Nahar (Lebanon) January 9, 2016. 

[16] Now.mmedia.me/lb/ar, January 8, 2016.

[17] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 938, Independent Shi'ites In Lebanon Challenge Hizbullah, February 22, 2013.

[18] Janoubia.com, January 10, 2016.

[19] Facebook.com, January 8, 2016.

[20] Janoubia.com, January 7, 2016.

[21] Twitter.com/lidazzz87, January 10, 2016.

[22] Facebook.com, January 8, 2016.

[23] Facebook.com, January 7, 2016.