Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
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Tufaili Returns to Lebanese Political Scene
The dramatic return of Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili to the public spotlight in recent months has inspired a wave of intense bewilderment and disgust among most Lebanese and underscored the ability of Damascus to "rehabilitate" the political power of even the most notorious criminals in Lebanon.
Tufaili, a former secretary-general of Hezbollah, was the target of a nation-wide manhunt in January 1998 after a violent confrontation erupted between his dissident Shi'ite militia and Lebanese military forces. Lebanese military prosecutor Nasri Lahoud issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of "forming armed groups, endangering national security and killing soldiers and civilians" as the army conducted a massive sweep of the Bekaa valley and laid siege to his hometown
of Britel. Tufaili avoided capture, however, and his forces resumed sporadic operations against the rival Hezbollah militia earlier this year. In April, Tufaili's followers seized a major weapons depot containing machine-guns, rocket-launchers, mines and other equipment in the village of Nabichit near Baalbeck. Sources in Lebanon report that his militia controls several strategic positions in the Bekaa valley and has swelled with new recruits of disaffected Hezbollah militiamen.
|Sobhi Tufaili |
In the last few months, Tufaili has come out of hiding and now holds public meetings at his residence in Douris near Baalbeck. According to one source, he is even organizing a list of candidates, headed by his nephew Mohammad Tufaili, to compete against Hezbollah in next year's parliamentary elections.1 Syria's decision to back Tufaili's return to politics is said to be motivated by a desire to reduce the political influence of Hezbollah and discourage Iranian involvement in the country.
1 Al-Watan al-Arabi, 3 December 1999
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