Beirut, Lebanon  - Traffic came to a standstill on Beirut's airport road as hundreds of activists gathered to protest against the burial of one of Lebanon's most controversial figures in Lebanese territory. 

Those taking part in Monday's protests against the burial of Antoine Lahd included civil society activists, leftists, and members of the Communist Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.  

Antoine Lahd was the former head of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia, which was established during Lebanon's civil war and was financially and militarily supported by Israel throughout its occupation of south Lebanon until 2000.

Lahd died of a heart attack while in exile in Paris last week and his burial is set for September 18.

'Message to traitors'

For an overwhelming number of Lebanese people, Lahd is seen as the biggest traitor in the country's recent history. When reports emerged over the possibility of bringing his body back to his hometown in the south of Lebanon for burial, many, including those whose families have suffered at the hands of the SLA, were in an uproar.

"This is an incredibly important issue for us, and through the protest we want to send a message to all other traitors, that you cannot be considered part of this country, and we will never accept you back," said Maher Dana, one of the protest organisers.

"The people who came out today came out not because this is a political or religious issue, but because [bringing his body back to Lebanon] is something no one will accept."

The SLA was formed in the 1970s after the Lebanese civil war started. It was founded originally by a Lebanese army major, Saad Haddad, in order to fight against the Palestinians in the south of the country.

The largely Christian militia also fought against other Lebanese groups in the area, including the Communists, the Amal militia, and then Hezbollah.

Israeli ally

When Israel first invaded south Lebanon in 1978, the SLA allied itself with the Israelis, and from the late 1970s until 2000 it was very much Israel's militia in south Lebanon.

Lahd, a former general in the Lebanese army, took over from Haddad after he died in 1984, and for two decades, ordered and oversaw the atrocities committed by the SLA on behalf of the Israeli army. The notorious Khiam prison in the south, where the Israelis used to hold and torture Lebanese and Palestinian detainees, was run by the SLA.


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Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon in 2000, Lahd and several hundred of his militia men and their families fled to Israel, where they have been based ever since.

Lahd attempted to gain asylum in France but was refused, returning to Tel Aviv. There are currently a few thousand Lebanese, mostly Maronite Christians, living in Israel after fleeing Lebanon 15 years ago. Lahd moved back to Paris approximately five years ago. 

He was a traitor, a puppet for the Israelis.

Rami Khouri, political analyst

"He was a traitor, a puppet for the Israelis," Rami Khouri, a political analyst and senior fellow at the Issam Fares Institute in Beirut, told Al Jazeera.

"[The SLA] allied with the Israelis and created an Israeli protectorate in the south, and were out and out traitors."

"The majority of Lebanese were against it but couldn't do anything about it; the Lebanese army was too weak and Hezbollah was still growing."

Khouri continued, "What Lahd did is about the worst thing you can do to your country; not just side with your enemy, but carry out their atrocities."

The reports over where his final burial spot will be are still unconfirmed.

Source: Al Jazeera