On the night of Sunday October 24, 1999, an unknown person threw a stick of dynamite at the Mar Georgius Church in the Zahirieh area of Tripoli. The Lebanese Army arrested a number of suspects from among Islamist extremists but they were later released due to lack of evidence. Subsequently, in November, the Church of Mar Mikhael in Qebbeh, Tripoli, was targeted with a hand grenade. Once again, the Lebanese Army launched a series of crackdowns in the area in search of suspected Islamists, but the suspects ran away seeking shelter in Jurd Al-Njas, a barren area in the high part of Dennieh.
The fugitives contacted their comrades to back them up so that the Army would not hunt them down. There were 12 fugitives in all who had obtained their weapons from a man named Bassam Kanj. During Ramadan, the group increased to 150, some of whom had joined during the last ten days of the holy month. They had received military training with the Lebanese Army in the run-up to the potential confrontations, the same Army which was tracking their movements in preparation for the final attack. The militant groups were led by Bassam Kanj, Abdul Hakim Al-Jazzar and Abdullah Hazim.
Prior to the clashes
As the number of Islamist recruits deployed in the barren areas increased and their movements between the fringes of Dennieh and the city of Tripoli became more frequent, there were reports in the news that the militants might be gearing up for action and efforts began to find a solution for these groups in order to avoid confrontation with the Army. Islamist authorities convened an expanded meeting on December 30, 1999 at the Islamic Jama’a headquarters in Tripoli, in the presence of the Islamic Jama’a, the Islamic Unification Movement, the Salafist Islamic movements and a number of Islamic leaderships. It was agreed to form a delegation composed of MP Khaled Daher, Sheikh Bilal Shaaban, the Islamic Unification Movement Secretary General, and Sheikh Dai al-Islam Al-Shahhal, head of the Salafist Jama’a, and to dispatch it to Jurd Al-Njas to convince the militants to turn themselves in.
The delegation headed to the area where the militants were staying and started negotiating with them. Negotiations were due to be completed on the second day, before the expiry of the ultimatum set by the Army on Saturday at noon.
On Friday, December 31, 1999, the delegation continued its meetings with the militants represented by Abdullah Hazim. Meantime, the Lebanese Army was enforcing a security clampdown across all Lebanese regions on the eve of the New Year festivities. Part of the security plan entailed setting up a checkpoint near the Al-Hidaya Wal Ihsan Association’s radio, which belonged to Sheikh Al-Shahhal, in the town of Assoun in Dennieh. At 3pm, while Major Miled Al-Naddaf was examining the checkpoint, a van transporting gunmen under the command of Bassam Kanj attacked the site, shooting dead four soldiers and abducting Al-Naddaf and his bodyguard, Master Sergeant Balabel Balhas. The news spread quickly and Hazim presumed that while MP Khaled Daher was holding talks with him, the Army was getting ready for the battle. Having been accused of collusion with the Army against the militants, the delegation was detained and stripped of its devices and the guns of its bodyguards. A number of Islamic movements embarked on mediatory efforts to release the abductees but the militants agreed only to let go of members of the delegation while the officer and his bodyguard remained captives. Faced with the intransigence
شاهد الجدول كاملا
of the militants, the Army blocked all mediation channels and resolved to launch a military operation.
The Army began a large-scale operation during which Maghaweer troops- Lebanese Commando Regiment- disembarked from military helicopters in Jurd Al-Njas and engaged with the militants. Army troops continued to pursue militants until Saturday, January 1, 2000 but the manhunt only resulted in the arrest of eight men. The rest escaped, including the most powerful group of Bassam Kanj and Abdullah Hazim, which was able to reach the town of Kfarhabou- a predominantly Orthodox town at the entrance to Dennieh- by Sunday noon. They broke into the house of Sergeant Jean Yazbek who was detained with his pregnant wife and mother-in-law. Another group headed to the house of Jean’s brother, George Yazbek, and held him hostage with his wife and three children. An army force hurried to the town while the Army Command briefed a number of Tripoli’s Islamic leaders on the latest developments. Former MP Asaad Harmoush took the initiative to call the militants who had demanded to be allowed to move, with their captives, to Ouyoun Al-Samak. However, the Army insisted that the militants should first release the hostages and surrender their weapons. The failure of negotiations forced the Army to crack down on the two houses and clash again with the militants.
The confrontation resulted in 14 fatalities among the militants, including Abdullah Hazim and Bassam Kanj and 11 among the Lebanese Army, including Major Al-Naddaf, who was executed by the militants. Four civilians- Jean Yazbek’s wife and her mother, Mahmoud Al-Shaqeeq from Bqarsouna and a woman who used to work on a farm in Kfarhabou- were also killed. Eight militants were arrested and another four remained on the run.
Crime before the Justice Council
The severity of the crime entailed its referral to the Justice Council pursuant to Decree no. 2081 dated January 5, 2001. However, the Council refrained from delivering any judgments in the case for several reasons, foremost among which was that the judges were fearing for their own lives and subsequently were reluctant to render decisions. The judges kept adjourning sessions amidst an atmosphere that suggested an amnesty would soon be granted to the suspects, especially since Islamic authorities denied that the suspects had been planning to target the Army, but instead saw the suspects merely as faithful Muslims who, following in the footsteps of the Sunni of the Prophet, set up a camp in celebration of Ramadan. They argued that the misunderstanding and the Army’s wish to resolve the issue speedily and halt negotiations had led to clashes and to the use of violence while the suspects were fighting the Army.
Following the parliamentary elections of 2005, Parliament approved on July 19 Law no. 677 granting amnesty to the Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. The 12 suspects in the Dennieh and Majdal Anjar clashes were also pardoned pursuant to Law no. 678 dated July 19, 2005. They were released on July 22, 2005 – after five years, seven months and 23 days- and returned to Tripoli where they were given a hero’s welcome. Some are of the opinion that this was the first sign of the leniency that led Islamic movements to grow and expand in contempt both of the State and of the Army, especially when one takes into consideration that political support for these movements resulted in their being granted an amnesty even before they had been convicted.