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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora