From Lebanon, an Underground Lifeline to Syria

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

By: 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.

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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.

An activist from Homs Revolution News uploads a video to the group's Facebook page near the Syrian border, October 13, 2011.

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.

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.

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.”

VOA

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30 responses to “From Lebanon, an Underground Lifeline to Syria”

  1. prophettt Avatar

    Just testing,before I get the boots again.lol I have no intention nor the desire to comments on any topic or a story,but I’m just testing the credibility of yalibana,since the censorship ,and then the subsequent banning exercised on me by its editorial management.

    1. 🙂 :-):-) welcome back prophet.

  2.  Avatar

    Hello Guys,Let’s see how long I can last before I’m banned again  from this site.An Extra t might get me on this page,but won’t help me stay long enough before the editorial integrity of someone is offended by my hazardous views.

    1. 🙂 :-):-) welcome back prophet.

  3. prophettt Avatar

    Hello fellow commentators, it is the prophet himself,not the false one.lol.An extra t added to my name might get me on this page,but won’t help me stay much before the editorial integrity is offended by my hazardous views again,which would result in getting me banned again as a spam.lol

    1. Hey Prophet, welcome back … Hazardous view !!!! I’m the one accused of extreme views …:) Anyway let your figures do the talking.

      1. 5thDrawer Avatar

        I think it’s the poetry that puts you at risk, sweetie. 😉

    2. 5thDrawer Avatar

      Good to see you back … 🙂  Glad the ‘t’ worked … but I still think it was an automatic robotic software programme that checks for certain words or combinations of them. No ‘blog’ site has the time to read everything. And while any response from them was probably automated too, you may never hit on the right combination of words that put you out in the first place.
      Those programmes were mostly developed by American Baptists I think … instead of telling little Sally to turn off the computer, or to ignore the idiots who flood these sites, they want all the rest of us to be kissy-kissy nice. 🙂 Big Brother in action everywhere.
      In the war on terror, the Big Boys got into the act … we’re all probably being investigated for even being here. Poop on them.

      1. prophettt Avatar

        Thank you 5th, I appreciate the red carpet welcome .The email I received from the editorial desk was clear that I was being banned by yalibnan because I publicly “questioned the editorial integrity” of yalibana by asking for an explanation for the disappearance of my comments.This is a very typical behavior of of Arabs and Lebanese who get offended by tough and legitimate questions.Their  reaction is always silencing any one who either disagree with them or doubts them.

        Geo,Thank you body.Always a pleasure.

        libnan1, thanks to you as well.Obviously those figures means nothing to yalibana.I’ve never thought of this as a popularity contest,yet as you suggested,those number should mean something,but this is a Lebanese  sight after all.Remember that Billions (BIG NUMBERS ) of $ in debts and theft meant nothing to all of our governments ,and hundreds of thousands(STILL COUNTING) of dead people meant nothing to our warlords and political leaderships.
        I will bite my tongue ,and enjoy visiting all of you (WHILE WAITING FOR THE BOOTS),and I will  honer my promise  to myself of not engaging in any meaningful  discussion at this site unless Ylibnan explains its actions.

        1. 5thDrawer Avatar

          Hehe … beginning to sound like a ‘Love-In’ …. ouch !
            I guess you might have said a few things of interest. 🙂

    3. MeYosemite Avatar
      MeYosemite

      If you get banned again get yourself an anonymous account, perhaps in the same name class if you like. No need to disclose yourself. Your friends will recognize you from your tone also… Media channels should be challenged as they are the only source of information to rely on….

      1. prophettt Avatar

        MeYosemite,Thanks for the advice,But this is exactly what I should not have to do.
        I refuse to conceal my identity in order to avoid censorship by a site that claims to support freedom of expression and democracy.They can’t claim to oppose what Assad ,Qadafi and the royals of Saudi arabia do,and at the same time silence  a voice of reason because of his views.Nothing in life is worth concealing one’s identity.

        1. Hannibal Avatar

          You’re still pissing off people? LOL
          We missed you…

        2. prophettt Avatar

          Hannibal, Thank you. I must have touched a nerve on some weak link.lol However, I have no regrets.

    4. Welcome Back Prophet, the moderators on this site are probably relatives to some of these dictators in the Middle East :p

  4.  Avatar

    Hello fellow commentators, it is the prophet himself,not the false one.lol.An extra t added to my name might get me on this page,but won’t help me stay much before the editorial integrity is offended by my hazardous views again,which would result in getting banned again as a spam.lol

    1.  Avatar

      Hey Prophet, welcome back … Hazardous view !!!! I’m the one accused of extreme views …:) Anyway let your figures do the talking.

      1.  Avatar

        I think it’s the poetry, sweetie. 😉

    2.  Avatar

      Good to see you back … 🙂  Glad the ‘t’ worked … but I still think it was an automatic robotic software programme that checks for certain words or combinations of them. No ‘blog’ site has the time read everything. And while any response from them was probably automated too, you may never hit on the right combination of words that put you out in the first place.
      There programmes were mostly developed by American Baptists I think … instead of telling little Sally to turn off the computer, or to ignore the idiots who flood these sites, they want all the rest of us to be kissy-kissy nice. 🙂 Big Brother in action everywhere.

      1.  Avatar

        Thank you 5th, I appreciate the red carpet welcome .The email I received from the editorial desk was clear that I was being banned by yalibnan because I publicly “questioned the editorial integrity” of yalibana.Very typical of of Arabs who get offended by a tough and legitimate questions.Their  reactions is always silencing any one who either disagree with them or doubts them.

        Geo,Thank you body.Always a pleasure.
        libnan1, thanks to you as well.Obviously those figures means nothing to yalibana.I’ve never thought of this as a popularity contest,yet as you suggested,those number should mean something,but again this is a Lebanese  sight after all. Billions (BIG NUMBERS ) of $ in debts means nothing to our  our governments.

        I will bite my tongue ,and enjoy visiting all of you (WHILE WAITING FOR THE BOOTS),and I will  honer my promise  to myself of not engaging in any meaningful  discussion at this site unless Ylibnan explains its actions.

      2.  Avatar

        Thank you 5th, I appreciate the red carpet welcome .The email I received from the editorial desk was clear that I was being banned by yalibnan because I publicly “questioned the editorial integrity” of yalibana.Very typical of of Arabs who get offended by a tough and legitimate questions.Their  reactions is always silencing any one who either disagree with them or doubts them.

        Geo,Thank you body.Always a pleasure.
        libnan1, thanks to you as well.Obviously those figures means nothing to yalibana.I’ve never thought of this as a popularity contest,yet as you suggested,those number should mean something,but again this is a Lebanese  sight after all. Billions (BIG NUMBERS ) of $ in debts means nothing to our  our governments.

        I will bite my tongue ,and enjoy visiting all of you (WHILE WAITING FOR THE BOOTS),and I will  honer my promise  to myself of not engaging in any meaningful  discussion at this site unless Ylibnan explains its actions.

      3.  Avatar

        Thank you 5th, I appreciate the red carpet welcome .The email I received from the editorial desk was clear that I was being banned by yalibnan because I publicly “questioned the editorial integrity” of yalibana.Very typical of of Arabs who get offended by a tough and legitimate questions.Their  reactions is always silencing any one who either disagree with them or doubts them.

        Geo,Thank you body.Always a pleasure.
        libnan1, thanks to you as well.Obviously those figures means nothing to yalibana.I’ve never thought of this as a popularity contest,yet as you suggested,those number should mean something,but again this is a Lebanese  sight after all. Billions (BIG NUMBERS ) of $ in debts means nothing to our  our governments.

        I will bite my tongue ,and enjoy visiting all of you (WHILE WAITING FOR THE BOOTS),and I will  honer my promise  to myself of not engaging in any meaningful  discussion at this site unless Ylibnan explains its actions.

        1.  Avatar

          Hehe … beginning to sound like a ‘Love-In’ …. ouch !
            I guess you might have said a few things of interest. 🙂

    3.  Avatar

      If you get banned again get yourself an anonymous account, perhaps in the same name class if you like. No need to disclose yourself. Your friends will recognize you from your tone also… Media channels should be challenged as they are the only source of information to rely on….

      1.  Avatar

        MeYosemite,Thanks for the advice,But this is exactly what I should not have to do.
        I refuse to conceal my identity in order to avoid censorship by a site that claims to support freedom of expression and democracy.They can’t claim to oppose what Assad ,Qadafi and the royals of Saudi arabia do,and at the same time silence  a voice of reason because of his views.Nothing in life is worth concealing one’s identity.

        1. You’re still pissing off people? LOL
          We missed you…

        2.  Avatar

          Hannibal, Thank you. I must have touched a nerve on some weak link.lol However, I have no regrets.

    4.  Avatar

      Welcome Back Prophet, the moderators on this site are probably relatives to some of these dictators in the Middle East :p

  5. 5thDrawer Avatar

    Wow … Voice Of America gives out the secrets too?? Hope they bought good mufflers for the Chinese bikes.

  6.  Avatar

    Wow … Voice Of America gives out the secrets too?? Hope they bought good mufflers for the Chinese bikes.

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