August 30, 2012 01:16 AM
By Antoine Amrieh

KOURA, Lebanon: A group of five men were arrested for allegedly cutting down 115 olive trees in the Koura village of Harisha which they planned to sell as wood. The village’s custodian, Aziz Alawa, first noticed from a hill in Anefh village that trees in an olive grove had been cut down.

He informed the owners of the grove and the police, who launched a stakeout for the criminals in mid-August.

Monday, police saw the group coming back to finish what they had begun.

As the police approached the men, an exchange of fire broke out and one of the group escaped.

The remaining five, Mohammad Khalil, Yacoub Bou Zeid, Mohammad Bou Zeid, Bahaa Suleiman and Oudai Mahmoud – all of whom hail from the village Asloun in the Dinnieh-Minyeh qada – were arrested.

The police confiscated their chainsaws and pickup truck.

During the questioning, the suspects said they were cutting down the trees to sell wood.

The 115 trees in Harisha, which had been cut down, were owned by residents of the nearby villages of Qalamoun and Anfeh.

After the owners were notified, they began checking their groves and it became clear that the men had previously chopped down an entire grove owned by Edward Karam from Anfeh.

The grove, near the highway and village’s entrance, had 50 trees.

The act shocked residents of the area who said that they’d never seen such activity before.

“The incident is very strange,” said Alawi. “We have never seen such an act, not even during the Civil War. We are nearing the start of the olive picking season and the olives are much more valuable than the wood.

“I wish our politicians could see this sight and then maybe they would feel ashamed of releasing criminals,” said a farmer from Qalamoun. “But the wishes of people like us who live from the land do not always come true.”

Harisha is an agricultural area known for its olives and oil production.

Refaat Saba, the head of a Lebanese environmental protection group, said after surveying the site: “We’ve become accustomed as environmental groups to seeing and fighting environmental violations, such as cutting down trees and littering, but we have never seen such a flagrant violation.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2012, on page 4.

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