Hezbollah and its stronghold against coronavirus in Lebanon

By Isaac J. Martín

Tyre, Lebanon, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- With an army of ambulances, volunteers and members of the Hezbollah Lebanese Shiite group blast sirens in a declaration of war against coronavirus in the sectarian and divided Lebanon.

“First is to have faith in God and second is Hezbollah’s plan,” Haj Abdallah al Naser, the group’s leader in the southern city of Tyre, says during a rare media tour organized to show off Hezbollah’s state of preparedness to tackle the virus.

From ambulances to food delivery services for vulnerable people to a vacated hospital set aside specifically to deal with the pandemic, Hezbollah has financed it all, according to its own members, who do not receive financial aid from the government.

The Iranian-backed group, blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the United States, is widely supported by Lebanese people in its fight against Israel. The Shiite group and Israel are still technically at war.

Over the years, the group has developed a wide network of social services that stretches beyond Lebanon. Bankrolling its own infrastructure, with the help of Iran, Hezbollah has created a state within a state.

“Economically, the Health Ministry does not finance anything in this hospital, it is all Hezbollah,” Mohamed Suliman, in charge of the Jouaiyya hospital, says at the entrance of the center dedicated to handling mild coronavirus cases.

The new clinic, which smells like fresh paint, is located on a remote mountain and divided in two sections; one for men and other for women.

Hezbollah does, however, rely on the Amal movement, the most voted coalition in the last election and one that played a crucial role in the formation of the government after the resignation of Saad Hariri as prime minister following anti-government protests.

“We are cooperating with our brothers in Amal,” Naser tells Efe.

“All the political parties should collaborate together as Hezbollah has extended its hands to everybody. If there is no cooperation, we will not be able to get out of this crisis”.

Lebanon, a country of six million, is one of the Middle Eastern countries that has best managed the crisis. The infection rate has slowed and just 20 people have died thanks to the measures it implemented in late February.

However, the small country has been completely fragmented since the civil war (1975-1990) with its 18 religious communities failing to reunite.

Southern and eastern Lebanon, Hezbollah’s traditional stronghold, are the areas with the lowest number of coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organization in Lebanon.

The Health Ministry has only accepted two out of nearly a dozen hospitals and clinics the Shiite group said it has prepared to receive patients and run tests.

The Health Ministry has not replied to Efe’s request for comment.

Besides the coronavirus, Lebanon has been going through one of its worst economic crises in decades with the public debt surpassing $90 billion, which represents 170 percent of the gross domestic product.

Under these circumstances, the government failed to pay a foreign debt for the first time in the country’s history.

The International Monetary Fund forecast a 12 percent fall in Lebanon’s GDP, the biggest economic contraction in the Middle East and Central Asia.

In a bid to mitigate the double crisis, the group has set up a point in a mosque central Tyre to deliver food to the people who were severely affected by the shop closures.

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