Family of Hezbollah fighter ‘refuse to mourn’

After his death in Syria, relatives say Mohammad Ali Janbin died to protect “all Lebanese people”.

Mohammed Ali Janbin, Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria [Nour Samaha/Al Jazeera]
The deaths of 'martyrs' such as Janbin are celebrated on posters around fighters' homes [Nour Samaha/Al Jazeera]

Tamnine El Fawka, Lebanon – When the body of Mohammad Ali Janbin, a Hezbollah fighter, returned to Lebanon from neighbouring Syria, his mother threw rice over his corpse, much as friends of newlyweds greet the happy couple. To his family, he returned a martyr, someone who died fighting to protect their homes and their beliefs.

“For me, it’s a celebration,” Um Mohammad told Al Jazeera, sitting in her modest living room next to a portrait of her son in his military uniform – a smaller replica of the massive poster of him hanging upon the front of their home.

Based in the tiny village of Tamnine el Fawka here in the Bekaa Valley, the family home looks out onto the hills that separate them from Syria, just a few kilometres away.

A tall, stern-looking woman, Um Mohammad refuses to mourn the loss of her son.

“Every night we used to pray for him, and we used to pray he would return a martyr,” she said. “I wanted to go with him [to Syria], to bring him and his friends water.”

Pointing to her remaining two sons, she said defiantly: “I would let them go and fight too.”

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement, last month confirmed its military involvement in Syria’s war, fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s troops. It claims its role is limited to defending Lebanese citizens living on the Syrian side of the border, as well as protecting Shia shrines in Damascus.

Last week the Syrian administration, with Hezbollah’s help, defeated the rebels to gain control of the strategic city of Qusayr.

Every night we used to pray for him, and we used to pray he would return a martyr.

by Um Mohammad, mother of deceased Hezbollah fighter

Syrian opposition groups are now accusing the Lebanese militia of moving fighters on to Aleppo and Zabadani, expanding its role in the conflict.

‘They’re coming after us’

Despite local and international condemnation of Hezbollah’s role in Syria’s civil war, with many holding the group responsible for the turmoil now gripping Lebanon, families of fighters remain resolute in their defence of the group.

For the families who are living in the Bekaa Valley, whose villages and towns share a border with Syria, they consider Hezbollah to be the only credible source of protection against what they see as a very real threat to their existence from Syrian rebels.

“The armed gangs in Syria are coming after us,” Abu Mohammad, Ali Janbin’s father, told Al Jazeera, moving his fingers rhythmically over a set of prayer beads.

“These are not rumours, we’ve heard the threats they’ve made against us and seen the way they’ve attacked our religious sites,” he said, referring to reports of Syrian rebels digging up the grave of Hijr ibn Odai in Damascus, a sacred site for the Shia.

“You can see how [the rebels] are treating people over there, and how they are harming people,” added his wife, Um Mohammad.

“My son could not bear to see injustice, he was raised with decent principles.”

While they did not know where Janbin was killed, the information his family received after his death indicated he was shot in the neck by a sniper.

All they know is he was in Syria for 24 days.

“We didn’t know what he was doing with Hezbollah, but we knew he was with them,” his father said. “I didn’t want to know either, because I didn’t want to put limits on him.”

Inside Syria: What next, after the battle for Qusayr?  

Janbin joined the movement ten years ago, at the age of 25, having just graduated from university as an engineer. He was able to move quickly up the ranks, allegedly on an accelerated path towards a commander position.

In July 2006 he fought with Hezbollah against Israel, as a military onslaught raged in southern Lebanon for 33 days. More recently, his parents said he held an important role in the fighting in Syria regarding tactics and strategies.

“His military name was Imad, in reference to Imad Mughniyeh,” said his father, referring to the Hezbollah military mastermind assassinated in Syria in 2008.

Sniper girls and tunnels

Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria is also strategic; the Syrian regime supplies the group with weapons for its fight against Israel, and is therefore considered a crucial ally, along with Iran, in the “axis of resistance”.

The battle of Qusayr was important for the group in order to prevent it falling into the hands of the rebels and cutting off a key supply route from Syria into Lebanon.

One Hezbollah fighter in the Bekaa Valley who returned from Qusayr over the weekend described how they were fighting rebels “wall to wall”. He said the majority of the rebels he encountered were “foreign” fighters.

“From the identity cards we picked up, there were barely any Syrians… a large majority were from Britain, France, Jordan, the Gulf, Lebanon, and Chechnya,” he told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity. “We also found weapons from everywhere, including Israeli-made weapons.”

“We discovered Chechen girls who were snipers,” he said, describing one girl approximately 18 years old, who spent days hidden in a water tank, working as a sharpshooter.

“At the beginning, the battle was very tough because the rebels had built up a strong defence around the city,” he said. “They had dug tunnels, and were using tactics we had clearly taught the Palestinians in the past.”

He rejected claims made by the Syrian opposition that thousands of civilians remained in the city under siege.

“We didn’t find any civilians,” he said. “There were no women and children. The only people there were armed men.”

Family man and football referee

The villagers of Tamnine al Fawka did not see Janbin as a fighter, but rather as a modest and dependable family man, who would often be called upon to resolve village issues.

“He was the guy you would call to break up a fight in the street,” 24-year-old Malak, his wife, told Al Jazeera. “Everyone in the village loved him. He was always asked to be referee in their football matches.”

Malak met Jandin four years ago, online. “Even though we came from the same village, we didn’t know each other. We saw each other on the internet and liked each other,” she said, shyly.

After getting married, she gave birth to two sons, Haydar, and Ali Reda, who, while they are now too young to understand what has happened to their father, will be brought up “on his path”.

Malak says she understands why he had to fight in Syria. “The Lebanese soldiers can’t hold weapons to defend us, so who is going to protect us? Hezbollah is not there defending the Syrian regime, but to protect all the Lebanese.”

However, she made no bones of the fact that his absence from their home was noticeable.

“He was my whole world. He taught me everything; he was smart, he knew about technology, about sport, about religion, everything,” she said.

“I miss him. I even miss when he’s mad at me.”

Follow Nour Samaha on Twitter: @Nour_Samaha

Source: Al Jazeera