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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid