Hezbollah’s Half Million Terrorist March
Hizbollah Draws Vast Pro-Syrian Crowds in Beirut (Reuters)
Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese flooded central Beirut Tuesday for a pro-Syrian rally called by Hizbollah that dwarfed previous protests demanding that Syrian troops quit Lebanon [emphasis added]. Hizbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah urged the Lebanese opposition to join a national unity government and to reject a U.N. resolution demanding Syrian troops leave Lebanon. “We call…for the formation of a government of national unity and we ask the opposition to join it,” he told the rally.
Nasrallah said no one in Lebanon feared the United States, whose troops left Lebanon in 1984, a few months after a suicide bomber killed 241 Marines at their Beirut headquarters.
“We have defeated them in the past and if they come again we will defeat them again,” he said, drawing chants of “Death to America” from the demonstrators.
As the mainly Shi’ite Muslim crowds thronged Riad al-Solh square, a security source said Syrian forces had begun moving eastwards under a phased withdrawal plan announced Monday. “The redeployment to the Bekaa Valley has started in line with the first phase,” the Lebanese source said.
The huge Hizbollah rally was the first major show of popular support for Syria in Beirut since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri touched off daily anti-Syrian protests, mainly involving Maronite Christians. Those protests, which drew tens of thousands Monday, take place in Martyrs Square, just 300 meters (yards) from the scene of the gathering organized by Hizbollah and its allies. The rival demonstrations, each using the Lebanese cedar flag to show patriotism, reveal deep rifts in Lebanon over Syria’s role and international demands for Hizbollah to disarm. Hizbollah officials and a pro-Syrian security source said one million people attended the rally and witnesses said the crowds were certainly in the hundreds of thousands.
Thousands Answer Hezbollah Call in Beirut (AP) [WaPo, ABC]
Nearly 500,000 pro-Syrian protesters waved flags and chanted anti-American slogans in a central Beirut square Tuesday, answering a nationwide call by the militant Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group for a demonstration to counter weeks of massive rallies demanding Syrian forces leave Lebanon.
The demonstration was in front of U.N. offices. Hezbollah opposes the U.N. resolution drafted by the United States and France last year calling for Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon.
Tuesday’s rally was far bigger than the more than 70,000 anti-Syrian protesters who filled nearby Martyrs’ Square on Monday [emphasis added]. That was the biggest rally yet of anti-Syrian furor, as demonstrators waved Lebanon’s cedar-tree flag and thundered, “Syria out!” There were no independent estimates of Tuesday’s crowd, but at least 500,000 people crowded Riad Solh Square and nearby streets. The Lebanese army blocked the road between the two squares with an armored carrier.
I haven’t surveyed the Lebanese population and have nothing but a strong guess that the number favoring Syrian withdrawal far exceeds those favoring the status quo. But does anyone seriously think comparing a crowd willing to risk getting shot by a tyrannical regime for protesting with one fearing getting killed by terrorists for not protesting is a useful exercise?
Update (1255): Commenter JakeV notes that John Zogby has surveyed the population of Lebanon. See my commentary here.
Update (1739): CNN weighs in with a lower crowd estimate:
Some news reports estimated Tuesday’s crowd at 200,000 protesters, but CNN’s Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler said it was difficult to give a figure, save that the attendance was “impressive.”
Interestingly, no comparison with the freedom marches was made.
But if the turnout for the Hezbollah rally was lower than expected then I’d guess we’d be seeing plenty of “Ha, these guys have no support” postings in the blogosphere.
Probably so. I’m not sure how one compares them, in all honesty. Presumably, it takes more courage to stand up to the government than to support it. Still, I’m sure there are some people who’d prefer the Syrians stay even aside from Hezbollah’s prodding. How many, I haven’t a clue.
Some information on this issue can be found in John Zogby’s new poll taken in Lebanon.
When tens of thousands of Lebanese protested against the pro-Syrian Lebanese government it was hailed around the world as an impressive expression of the will of the Lebanese people and their desire for self-determination. Does the sight of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese now expressing support for Syria not also represent the will of the people? Or is this a case where, as Henry Kissinger would have put, we should not be swayed by “the irresponsibility of the people”?
I think it is fair to say that the large pro-Syrian demonstrations do not represent the “will of the people” in the same way that the earlier, anti-Syrian demonstrations do. This sounds awfully convenient, but it is justified by noting (as many have) that only the anti-Syrian protestors were risking retribution.
Still, we should be taking Hezbollah’s recent demonstrations very seriously. The will of the people aside, they represent a compelling show of force. If 200 or 500 thousand will march, then 20 or 50 thousand will patrol the streets, ready to beat their opponents to pulp; and two or five thousand will take up the tools of murder and terror, if given the chance.
Syria is not going to be a cakewalk.