The family of Sgt. Abbas Medlej, backed by Hezbollah, appealed for calm Sunday as they received condolences in his hometown of Ansar Sunday following sectarian attacks and kidnappings incited by his beheading at the hands of Sunni Islamists.
“I was a soldier in the Lebanese army and I ask the leadership of the army to call me up so that I may serve in the place of the martyr Abbas,” Abbas’ bereaved father, Ali, told The Daily Star Sunday.
He compared his son to the “national martyr” Ali Sayyed, the first Lebanese army soldier to be beheaded by militants. The soldiers were kidnapped along with policemen during clashes in Arsal between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants from the Nusra Front and ISIS.
Ali Medlej called on the Lebanese government to do everything in its power to free the rest of the hostages.
The Medlej family continued to receive condolences Sunday at the home of the slain soldier’s brother in Ansar, Baalbek, despite the lack of official confirmation of his death by the army.
His picture adorned the funeral tent as his mother was seen clutching her son’s clothes in disbelief at his slaying.
Abbas’ 14-year-old brother, Mahmoud, pledged, “When I get older I will volunteer for the army to serve the nation and avenge my brother.”
Earlier in the day, the family issued a statement emphasizing the need for restraint in the wake of vigilante attacks on Sunni and displaced Syrians in the Bekaa Valley in response to Medlej’s slaying.
“Our choice remains as is, Lebanon a country of coexistence for all its components. The terrorist act that killed our son Abbas is a crime against all Lebanese, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze,” the statement said. “We call on all our people to show self-restraint and to behave in a manner that respects the heroic martyrs.”
As news of Medlej’s killing spread Saturday night and photographs claiming to show the beheading were distributed on social media networks, angry protesters blocked roads across the country and armed men made a show of force in the northern Bekaa Valley.
Motorists reported being stopped and intimidated by armed men who erected checkpoints at the intersections leading to the towns of Majdaloun, Ansar, Brital and Baalbek.
They reportedly checked for the sectarian affiliation on identification documents, asking Sunni passengers to get out while allowing Shiites to pass.
Armed men also descended on several informal tented settlements of Syrian refugees in Doures and elsewhere, beating Syrians and burning their tents.
Gunmen later identified as belonging to the Masri family from Hourtaala abducted two Lebanese nationals, Abdullah al-Breidy, an engineer from Baalbek, and Hussein Hasan al-Fliti from Arsal.
Fliti was kidnapped as he returned with his Dabke dance troupe, the Temples of Baalbek, on the Badnayel road. He was taken along with the head of the group, Omar Hamade and Hamade’s father and son. The Hamades were all released around 1 a.m. while Fliti was taken to an unknown location.
The Masris are demanding the release of one of their relative, who is among the captured soldiers being held by ISIS. The family warned that if their relative was harmed or killed, Breidy and Fliti would face the same fate.
Among the first mourners to arrive at Medlej’s funeral was a delegation from Hezbollah led by Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek, who condemned such attacks and warned against attempts to incite sectarianism.
Yazbek delivered a speech during which he called for everyone to support the Army, and expressed hope the state would continue to work for the release of all hostages.
“If ISIS and those who are with them are planning to sow strife in this country, we will douse the fire of division,” he said. “We do not attack any one the displaced people who came to Lebanon and who have been welcomed by the Lebanese in their homes. This is humanitarian work imposed by God and humanity and these are our values.”
“It is not in keeping with our values to attack others, and we are not helpless in the face of those who oppress us,” he added. “Attacking any one of those displaced people will only pave the way for igniting strife in this country.”
By Rakan Al-Fakih
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