Hezbollah's coronavirus spending leaves its fighters without medical, food support

Volunteers from Hezbollah's Islamic health unit stand in preparation to sanitize streets as precaution against the spread of coronavirus, during a media tour organized by Hezbollah officials in Beirut's southern suburb. (Reuters)

Hezbollah has publicly displayed its work on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus in Lebanon, but the group’s militants who fight on frontlines elsewhere say they are now receiving less support from the organization.

The organization’s finances have been stretched thin for months due in part to US sanctions on Hezbollah and the group’s patron Iran, and it is now reflecting in the support provided to its fighting force.

Relying on a corps of volunteers and doctors, Hezbollah boasted new medical facilities specifically equipped to receive coronavirus patients in regions under its control. Some likened Hezbollah’s efforts to a public relations campaign.

Read more: The domestication of Hezbollah in the time of coronavirus

The paramilitary group has mobilized two testing centers and a fleet of ambulances and has redesigned an entire hospital equipped with ventilators for coronavirus patients. The organization has also rolled out a call center and three quarantine centers with 170 beds that can be scaled up to 1,000 beds, according to Reuters.

But despite its robust network, sources close and inside the party admit there is a significant decline in Hezbollah’s overall services, including its medical services provided to its members, and connections to high-ranking members are now needed to receive extra food aid.

“Fighters are complaining that there is more bureaucracy and red tape, which is making access to basic healthcare more complicated,” said a source close to Hezbollah and speaking on condition of anonymity. The source said the party is increasingly reliant on Lebanese social healthcare for costly surgeries.

Abou Hadi, a Hezbollah fighter, said there has been a significant impact on all the services provided by the group. He participated in numerous rounds of fighting on the outskirts of Damascus in Syria and was wounded several times. Now he explains that the party has cut many of the subsidies it used to provide.

“I earn $600, but I used to receive at least double that amount in dental care, gas subsidies, food supplies, and many others. A lot of the financial support we used to get has now been slashed,” he explained.

Hezbollah used to pay a bonus to fighters deployed in Syria, but has since limited its deployment due declining fighting and also because of significant budget cuts.

Corruption, which already plagued certain aspects of the organization, is now becoming common within lower ranks as many are vying for scarce resources.

“To get extra financial support or food aid, you need to be close to certain commanders. It’s all about wasta now. That never happened before, the organization used to operate in a fair manner and took good care of its fighters. That is not the case anymore,” says Abou Hadi.

The depreciation of the Lebanese pound is making matters worse, as Hezbollah fighters are now struggling to make ends meet, a problem that as members of the group, they never had to deal with before.

Islamic health unit personnel wearing protective gear stand near ambulances as part of preparations to help tackling the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, during a media tour organised by Hezbollah officials in Beirut's southern suburb. (Reuters)

Islamic health unit personnel wearing protective gear stand near ambulances as part of preparations to help tackling the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, during a media tour organised by Hezbollah officials in Beirut's southern suburb. (Reuters)

Hezbollah’s fighters have largely borne the cost of increased sanctions, but the leadership continues to invest in medical equipment and facilities.

A non-governmental organization medical source who collaborates with Hezbollah hospitals underlines that “the organization has brand new hospitals with good care standards, maintained by professional healthcare providers.”

According to a study by Middle East Policy Center, Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Unit operates at least three hospitals, 12 health centers, 20 infirmaries, and 20 dental clinics. The Islamic Health unit is also involved in a number of initiatives, such as offering free health insurance, mental care and prescription-drug coverage.

Hezbollah’s Foundation for the Wounded provides aid to civilians who have been injured during the conflict with Israel.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:58 - GMT 06:58
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