News / Middle East

From Lebanon, an Underground Lifeline to Syria

Movement across the border on the Kabir River has been unrestricted for generations. Many families live on both sides and trade between villages thrives.

Syrian soldiers deploy in the village of Arida, as seen from the northern Lebanese village of Wadi Khaled near the Lebanese-Syrian border, May 20, 2011.
Syrian soldiers deploy in the village of Arida, as seen from the northern Lebanese village of Wadi Khaled near the Lebanese-Syrian border, May 20, 2011.
Jeff Neumann

On a dusty plateau across from the Syrian city of Homs, a small group of Lebanese and Syrian activists and smugglers are busy working. Couriers riding motorbikes arrive at a safe house carrying portable flash drives loaded with photographs and videos of street protests, and of dead and wounded protesters, for transmission around the world. They operate in a Lebanese border area called Wadi Khaled, which has become a lifeline to Syrians and the frontline in the struggle to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

From Lebanon, an Underground Lifeline to Syria
From Lebanon, an Underground Lifeline to Syria

Wadi Khaled is a long valley flanked by high, rocky ridges that run along Lebanon’s northeastern border with Syria. Overlooking the valley, less than fifty yards away from Syria, is the village of Karha. The village so close to Homs that gunfire and explosions coming from there are clearly heard while activists type on laptops, send text messages and make dozens of phone calls from a safe house. Couriers are constantly coming and going.

Gruesome cell phone video footage of a man named Sheikh Nader, who had been shot and killed by Syrian security forces near Homs less than two hours before, arrived and was immediately uploaded to the group’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

“We do this not only to show the world what is happening in Homs. This is so Sheikh Nader and all of the other martyrs before him are never forgotten,” says Abed, a Syrian in his early 20s from Deir Baalbeh, where Sheikh Nader was killed. As Abed uploaded the video to Facebook, two young children played on straw mats in the small concrete room where they all sleep.

Together with several friends, Abed runs Homs Revolution News, a Facebook page and corresponding YouTube page where photographs and videos that are smuggled across the border are posted. USB flash drives can be carried across the border and their contents uploaded online in under an hour, the activists say.

The activists use a satellite internet connection and move frequently. Fear of Syrian mukhabarat permeates their ranks. People have disappeared from inside Lebanon, they say, at the hands of Syria’s secret police who can freely cross the border, too.

In a new report, the U.N. put the death toll from the seven-month Syrian uprising at just over 3,000. But most here believe that the real number of dead is far higher.

The Crossing

Syrian men cross the Kabir River into Syria from Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, October 13, 2011.
Syrian men cross the Kabir River into Syria from Wadi Khaled, Lebanon, October 13, 2011.

Roughly three miles from the official Bqayaa border crossing is an unofficial - and heavily trafficked - crossing over the Kabir River. A steady stream of young men emerge from footpaths in the underbrush nearby, joining others on Chinese motorbikes laden with goods bound for Syria. Local residents and Syrian refugees say that the safest time to cross here is during the day, because at night the Syrian army steps up its patrols in the area.

The vast majority of Lebanese in Wadi Khaled sympathize with the Syrians.

“Of course we must help them. They are our brothers,” says Khodr, a Lebanese man in his early 30’s who, like many here, will give only his first name. Khodr uses his minivan to shuttle people and goods to various points along the valley, day and night. He rarely sleeps more than a few hours at a time.

Syrian families carry their belongings as they arrive by foot in Wadi Khaled area, northern Lebanon, near the Lebanese-Syrian border, April 28, 2011.
Syrian families carry their belongings as they arrive by foot in Wadi Khaled area, northern Lebanon, near the Lebanese-Syrian border, April 28, 2011.

Refugees living in Wadi Khaled are, for the most part, safer than they would be in Homs and the surrounding towns, but their living conditions are grim. The lucky families who arrived early on during Syrian army’s crackdown are holed up in the concrete hulks of unfinished homes. Newcomers live under tarps in makeshift communities along the Kabir River where sanitary conditions are dire.

A middle-aged dentist from Wadi Khaled named Mustapha explains that while he’s not directly involved with the activists or smugglers and doesn’t consider himself to be very political, he sympathizes with the Syrians across the border and those who have fled. Mustapha offers his services free of charge to much of the growing refugee community.

“You see how they are living here? These conditions are unacceptable for any person,” Mustapha says, pointing to a cluster of tarp tents on the banks of the Kabir. “And every night there are more bombs, more deaths. Living here is their only hope and we must help them.”

A Long Struggle

Movement across the border on the Kabir River has been unrestricted for generations. Many families live on both sides and trade between villages thrives. The official border means little, if anything at all, to residents here.

Young Lebanese and Syrian boys loitering at a gas station in Wadi Khaled hurled expletives not only at Assad, but also at Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinjead and the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, for supporting the Assad regime. They wanted to know if western countries believed that Assad would fall, and if they would step in as they did in Libya. The young boys swore that Assad would last only a few months more, at best.

But quietly, some of the men around Wadi Khaled aren’t so sure.

“Hafez was much stronger than Bashar is,” Khodr says, referring to the late president of Syria, and father of Bashar, Hafez al-Assad. “But he has surprised us all. Everyone thought he would be gone by now,” he says, standing in the doorway of a warehouse in Karha.

The storeroom is sparsely stocked with cooking oil, light bulbs, baby formula, dry foods, fuel and other necessities waiting to be sent across to Syria. “They have nothing in Homs,” he says, referring to the virtual siege the city has been under since May.

And though conditions on both sides of the border are grim, the activists keep going. With a wide smile, Abed says he is sure that anti-government activists will ultimately succeed in removing the Assad family from power after four decades. He and the others here say they have come too far, and have spilled too much blood to stop. “We will win, because we have no other choice.”

من لبنان ، وشريان الحياة السرية لسوريا وقد وقعت حركة الناس عبر الحدود السورية اللبنانية لعدة أجيال. التجارة تزدهر بين القرى، وخصوصا في زمن الحرب.
Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid