News / Middle East

    Lebanese Factions Deepen Involvement in Syria

    Lebanese Sunnis march through the northern city of Tripoli carrying coffins of Lebanese militants killed in Syria last December. Sunni militants from Lebanon have been fighting with Syrian rebels to oust Syria's Assad government.
    Lebanese Sunnis march through the northern city of Tripoli carrying coffins of Lebanese militants killed in Syria last December. Sunni militants from Lebanon have been fighting with Syrian rebels to oust Syria's Assad government.
    A struggle is heating up between Lebanese factions supporting opposite sides in Syria’s civil war, alarming authorities in Beirut trying to keep their country out of the bloody fighting next door.

    Lebanese backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opponents supporting the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels trying to oust him have stepped up their operations to out-maneuver each other in recent weeks.

    Both sides in the Syrian civil war are anxious to keep support bases in Lebanon. The Assad government has been securing fuel, food and medical supplies with the aid of its Lebanese allies. The rebels have been using the country as a conduit for weapons and foreign fighters as well as a haven for wounded insurgents.

    This month, the Syrian government started helping its Lebanese supporters in their efforts to disrupt pro-rebel logistical efforts in Lebanon by ordering up air strikes on cross-border smuggling routes used by the rebels.

    The latest air strike came on April 10, when a Syrian government helicopter fired missiles on targets in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in two separate raids. One was near the Lebanon-Syria border and the other three kilometers northeast of Arsal, a Lebanese town serving as hub for the smuggling to the rebels.

    Damascus had warned Beirut earlier this month it would attack suspected rebel sites in Lebanon if incursions from across the border didn’t stop.

     

    Warning from Damascus

     

    “Lebanon is a logistical base for both camps,” said Bassel Salloukh, a political scientist at Beirut’s Lebanese American University. “The worry is that when the battle for Damascus gets underway in earnest, Lebanon will turn from being a logistical base into a battlefield.”

    Damascus is just over an hour’s drive from the Lebanese border.


    Gun battles have periodically erupted in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between Alawite fighters in the Jabal al-Mohsen neighborhood, who back the Assad regime, and Sunni gunmen in the adjacent Bab al-Tabbaneh district, who support the Syrian uprising. The Syrian president comes from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

    Much of the logistical struggle in Lebanon, though, doesn’t involve gun battles, but consists of intelligence-based efforts mounted by both sides to hamper the transport of supplies into Syria.

     

    Food and fuel targeted

    Lebanese Sunnis supporting the rebels earmark food and fuel trucks, burning or looting them when spotted. They block roads leading into Syria being used by the trucks.
     

    Trucks park at the Lebanese-Syrian border after residents in Lebanon blocked the road to protest what they said were shipments of diesel fuel to the Syrian government February 13, 2013.Trucks park at the Lebanese-Syrian border after residents in Lebanon blocked the road to protest what they said were shipments of diesel fuel to the Syrian government February 13, 2013.
    x
    Trucks park at the Lebanese-Syrian border after residents in Lebanon blocked the road to protest what they said were shipments of diesel fuel to the Syrian government February 13, 2013.
    Trucks park at the Lebanese-Syrian border after residents in Lebanon blocked the road to protest what they said were shipments of diesel fuel to the Syrian government February 13, 2013.
    “We have the sheikhs, they decide when we should block roads and we go out put up obstacles, burn tires and cut the road when we know there are trucks full of fuel heading for Syria,” says Mohammad al-Ladan, an activist in Majdel Anjar, an overwhelmingly Sunni town on the highway linking Beirut and Damascus. “No fuel trucks have used the highway for a month now,” he adds.

    Trucks carrying supplies other than fuel for the Assad regime are also being stopped. “Some of the activists loot the trucks and distribute the food and goods to Syrian refugees,” says Omar Abdul Rahman, an NGO worker in the nearby town of Bar Elias.

    Publicly, Lebanese government officials are playing down much of the clandestine struggle. They don't want to highlight that while they are observing an official policy of neutrality in the Syrian civil war, other powerful forces within Lebanon don’t feel so constrained.

     

    Open confrontations avoided

     

    They are fearful too of intervening forcefully. Sources in Lebanon's security police say the worry is that such intervention could involve Lebanese government forces in confrontations that might escalate and provoke bigger firefights between pro and anti-Assad Lebanese.

    Above all government forces are avoiding any confrontations with Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shia militia movement that has backed Assad since the civil war began two years ago.

    Hezbollah has intensified its patrolling on both sides of the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Bekaa and further north to try to disrupt the arms and supplies destined for the Syrian rebels. Hezbollah also is trying to prevent foreign fighters, including Lebanese Sunnis, from joining the rebel struggle against Assad.

    “We are trying to contain problems, stop opposing sides from clashing physically and ensuring the public is not too affected,” says a senior Lebanese security police officer who asked not to be named. “But there is more activity and more danger.”

    In Tripoli, the Lebanese government has cracked down strongly in the past when pro and anti-Assad Lebanese groups have clashed, worrying that those firefights clashes could quickly escalate.

    But it isn’t just in Tripoli that the behind-the-scenes stealth war threatens to explode. In the northern Bekaa Valley, a series of tit-for-tat abductions connected with the logistical war is roiling Sunni-Shia relations in the Baalbek-Hermel region that includes the smuggling town of Arsal.

    Pro-rebel Sunnis from the town of Arsal and members of the Jaaffar clan, who are Shia, have been engaged in retaliatory kidnappings since the end of last month.

    Some local leaders in Arsal, who are critical of the Lebanese government for intervening, issued a statement recently blaming Lebanese security forces for the protracted instability in the area.

    “[The] security bodies’ performance in ensuring the security of the people has been bad and will definitely lead to strife…What these security bodies are doing is managing a security crisis instead of sticking to their primary role which is to strike all violators with an iron fist,” the statement said.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    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.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora