The town of Chouweifat is strategically placed overlooking Beirut’s airport. Its population is predominantly from Lebanon’s minority Druze community and its buildings on Monday bore the scars of Sunday’s violent sectarian clashes – by far the bloodiest in the five days of violence that has now claimed more than 80 lives.
Fighters belonging to Lebanon’s opposition, largely relying on the battle-hardened units of the Shia Hizbollah movement, had the upper hand in Chouweifat, as they had last week in Beirut when they overran government supporters in the west of the capital in a matter of hours.
But a day after the fighting spread to the mountains above Beirut, there were signs that the cadres belonging to the party of veteran Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a powerful member of the pro-government coalition, had put up more of a fight than the Sunni down in the capital.
The fighting between the opposition and government supporters on Sunday erupted with a vengeance in the Druze areas – claiming 37 lives, 11 of them in Chouweifat – after mutual provocation and kidnappings.
By Monday morning the fighting had subsided and members of the opposition, along with the army, controlled the lower part of the town and the old road linking Beirut to Sidon.
“This is the house where the members of Walid Jumblatt’s mafia were holed up,” said a man in civilian clothes patrolling the street. The two-storey building was abandoned, its windows shattered and its facade marked by the impact of rockets.
Next to the heavily damaged house, in a garage of another abandoned building, a bloody mass of what appeared to be a human brain rested in the driveway and trails of blood seeped out of the building. Inside the garage the left wall was marked by a row of bullet holes between knee and waist level.
The opposition supporter outside confirmed that six out of the nine heavily armed pro-government Druze fighters had been killed in the battle. But he denied that an execution style shooting had taken place.
In a building on the other side of the street, Roula Jurdi accused the government supporters of having started that particular fight.
“The people from Walid Jumblatt’s party shot at us. We were only women and children,” she said. The building carries some marks of shooting but not of having been targeted heavily.
Mrs Jurdi told how her uncle, who belongs to the opposition, had been treated by the government-allied Druze fighters. “When he went to persuade them to surrender, they refused and they shot him in the arm,” she maintained. Hizbollah, on the other hand, had behaved well, protecting the women and children, she said.
But farther up in the town, groups of Druze men were standing around, occasionally venting their anger at what had happened.
“They turned their weapons on us while they always said they would not do that,” said a man who identified himself as Jad, referring to Hizbollah.
Pointing at a gaping hole in the wall of a house overlooking the lower part of town, he said Hizbollah had betrayed the Druze. “During the war of 2006 [with Israel] we sheltered them. This is how they pay us back.”
Most of the Druze men said that they had not fought because Mr Jumblatt had ordered them to stand down. “But the last thing a Druze sells is his gun. We will all fight to protect our homes from Hizbollah.”
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