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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.