War on the horizon: Syrian refugees in Lebanon

[Editor’s Note: Thousands of refugees have fled from Syria to the towns over the border in Lebanon – villages like Qaa and Ras Baalbek. Little news is getting out of Syria because communications centres have been destroyed. The Western Media have been dependent on these communications centres. Be mindful there is bias and some false assumptions made in reports like the one below. For example I have heard that at least one village in Lebanon (ras Baalbek) has been very helpful to large numbers (10,000) of Syrian refugees, providing them with shelter, food and water. Reports last week indicate that one village close to the Syrian border (al Qaa) has been shelled by the Syrian Army because the Free Syrian Army has hidden in valleys nearby.].

Syrian refugees make Lebanese school their home, for now
By Yara BayoumyAL-MARJ, Lebanon | Thu Aug 2, 2012 10:28am EDT(Reuters) – Messages broadcast from mosque loudspeakers warned residents of Damascus neighborhoods to leave their homes and helicopter gunships spitting bullets made sure they heeded the call.Now home for 18 families from the Syrian capital is a school building in Lebanon’s Bekaa Vally.But they claim they have been left to their fate by Lebanese authorities and international aid agencies. And when school restarts after the summer vacation, they have no idea where they will go.The families are part of an exodus to neighboring Lebanon of Syrians seeking refuge from what is now a civil war. The conflict is in its 17th month and edging ever closer to President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power in Damascus.Syrians living in Damascus watched with horror for months as the violence inched closer, and then rebel and government forces clashed in the streets of residential suburbs such as Sayyida Zeinab.

“Suddenly, in the dead of night, the mosque imams called out to us through loudspeakers ‘We urge the people of Sayyida Zeinab to flee their homes,'” said Abu Abdulrahman at the school in the Lebanese village of al-Marj.

His wife and three-year-old daughter fled to a neighboring area hoping to soon return. But two days later a helicopter fired at a funeral in Sayyida Zeinab.

“I carried dozens of corpses back to the mosque. Some families buried them in secret. The next day I left with the clothes on my back,” Abu Abdulrahman said.

His 19-year-old Iraqi wife, who fled to Syria after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, found herself on the move again.

“I feel safer, at least my daughter sleeps through the night now,” she told Reuters, sitting on a student’s chair and hiding her face with a purple patterned scarf.

But she is still mourning the death of her three-day-old baby, who died from smoke inhalation after a huge explosion in May soon after she had given birth in the local hospital.

MASKED MEN
The story of Abu Abdulrahman and his family is similar to the 17 other families who have made the school in al-Marj, a village of 12,000, their temporary home.

Most fled Damascus in mid-July when rebels took over parts of the capital and the army counter-attacked.

Some say masked men came to their door, others say notes were slipped under front doors. All left their homes behind, taking only identification papers and a few changes of clothes, perhaps in the hope they may return soon.

“Everything in my house is new, I’ve been building it for four years and I haven’t had time to enjoy it,” a woman in a yellow robe and black scarf said as she watched her 40-day-old baby sleep in a pink-and-white crib.

The Marj Secondary School has quickly taken on the aura of a refugee camp.

Desks and chairs are stacked in corridors to make room for families in classrooms. Children mop the floors to keep up a semblance of an orderly home.

Clothes lines hang from window latches. Foam mattresses, with bags of bread lying on top, are stacked near walls.

Students’ cubicles have been converted into mini-pharmacies stocked with medicine.

TURNING BACK FAMILIES
Bashir Jarrah, who is organizing the temporary refugee centre, says the school is filled to capacity with 67 people, of whom 25 are children.

“Every day we have to turn back three of four families,” he told Reuters in the classroom-turned-office.

“The international organizations come and ask what we need and then they disappear,” he said, showing a notebook in which he had written the names of organizations that had visited – the Danish Refugee Council and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency.

“The government hasn’t expressed interest. Once a week, someone from the police comes and asks how many refugees are here and then they leave,” he said.

The school is running mostly on donations, he said. Two weeks ago Saudi tourists stopped by the school, gave each family $200 and provided a further $3,000 for community leaders to run the school as a refugee centre.

Some restaurants provide meals for Muslims to break their fast during Ramadan and other residents gave some money. But it is not clear what will happen to the refugees once the school year starts in September.

“You can’t tell whether it’s night or day in the school. There’s so much noise, it’s just not a life,” said a man sitting in the corridor with his 7-month-old baby on his lap. “All I can think about is when school starts, where are we going to go?”

Jordan recently set up a camp to accommodate refugees pouring into its borders but the idea is particularly sensitive in Lebanon, where the government is dominated by Shi’ite Hezbollah and its allies and does not want to be seen as taking sides in the conflict.

Many of those fleeing are from Syria’s Sunni majority while Assad and his confidantes are mostly Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The UNHCR has registered about 35,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon but several thousand others are also thought to be there – a reversal of the situation in 2006 when Syrians offered shelter to Lebanese fleeing an Israeli offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas.

“If the situation lasts in Syria through next winter and beyond, then we, the international community and the Lebanese government have to think of a more sustainable solution for the refugees in Lebanon,” said Jurg Montani, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lebanon.

Jarrah lamented what he described as the government’s slow response to dealing with the crisis.

“They have to deal with the situation in a humanitarian manner and not a political one. The Syrians hosted us in their homes and schools during the 2006 war, why are we treating them differently?”

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4 thoughts on “War on the horizon: Syrian refugees in Lebanon

  1. One term more says:

    – thnx margot

  2. Thanks Ray for that article — Koffi Annan’s resignation yesterday from the Syria peace process demonstrates how weak the peace movement is in the West — reluctance to do the hard yards inside civil society is a possible reason, or more accurately the weakness of organisation in civil society in countries like Australia may be the root cause of the weak response to Syria … see http://workersbushtelegraph.com.au/2012/08/03/speak-out-against-hiroshima-bomb-and-nuclear-power/

    Ian Curr
    Aug 2012

  3. Ray Bergmann says:

    A Wikileaks cable dated May 2, 2007 details how Mossad is contributing covert assistance to Saudi intelligence.
    Date 2007-05-02 16:46:09
    From burton@stratfor.com
    To kuykendall@stratfor.com
    henson@stratfor.com
    hanna@stratfor.com
    aaric.eisenstein@stratfor.com
    InReplyTo: 007401c78cc6$ace96a60$a701a8c0@stratfor.com
    From: Fred Burton [mailto:burton@stratfor.com]
    Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 7:46 AM
    To: ‘Analysts’
    Subject: HUMINT – MOSSAD Covert Assistance to Saudi Intelligence

    MOSSAD is using Nicosia, Cyprus as a primary transit hub into Riyadh, to assist the Saudi intelligence services with intelligence collection and advice on Iran. Sources advised the Saudis are playing both sides of the fence — with the jihadists and the Israelis — for fear that the U.S. does not have a handle on either.

    Several enterprising MOSSAD officers, both past and present, are making a bundle selling the Saudis everything from security equipment, intelligence and consultation.
    http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/4838

  4. Ray Bergmann says:

    The choice confronting the world is not between the Assad regime and the opposition, but between two oppositions. One seeks international military intervention to enable it to overthrow the regime. The other strives for change through civil disobedience and dialogue and rejects military interference by foreign powers whose hostility to Syria pre-dates their recent discovery of the country’s woes.

    This conflict was born as a peaceful rebellion evolving into a popular revolution. Violent suppression of unarmed demonstrators led some opponents to take up arms in defence of the right to protest and demand change. The armed men were a minority among dissidents who recoiled from the despoliation of their country that would inevitably accompany a violent uprising, yet they gained the ascendancy by the force of their actions and the international support they gained for their choice of the rifle over the banner.

    As casualties mounted, advocates of a military solution dominated both the regime and the opposition camps. The centre, inevitably, could not hold. Battles that had been limited to border zones, where rebels were easily supplied from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, spread to the rest of the country. Damascus and Aleppo, whose populations had for the most part either supported the regime or opposed it without resort to weapons, have become in the past three weeks theatres of bloody confrontation.

    The rebels, advised by intelligence officers from western countries working in Turkey and Lebanon, took outlying neighbourhoods of Damascus. The regime, inevitably, used all the means at its disposal to drive them out and retake those areas. The next target of the rebels’ strategy was Aleppo, where the pattern is repeating itself: the rebels established themselves in the suburbs, residents fled and the regime returns with infantry, armour and air power to “restore” order. In the meantime, the United Nations estimates that 150,000 Syrians have fled the country and as many as 20,000 have died – on both sides, to be sure, but most casualties are those in the middle who are cursing both houses.

    How did Syria reach this point, and where is it going? Neither side can lay claim to the legitimacy of election by popular mandate. No one voted in a fair election for either Bashar al-Assad, who inherited his father’s mantle as if Syria were a monarchy, or the Free Syrian Army militias with the Syrian National Council.

    There are wars, and there are civil wars. Before the Red Cross withdrew from Syria last week, it declared this was a civil war. This means it is no longer a rebellion, but a battle for power between contending factions. Neither the Free Syrian Army nor the government recognises the other. Both refuse to speak to each other. Their external benefactors (for the regime, Russia, Iran and Iraq; for the opposition, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US, France and Britain) are encouraging their intransigence.

    For outsiders, whose own countries will not be the chessboard on which this game is played, war makes more political capital than the more subtle and difficult route of negotiation and compromise. Yet which is more likely to preserve Syria, its secularism, its economy and the healthy relations among its communities – civil war, as in Spain, Lebanon and Yugoslavia or the example of Nelson Mandela meeting the enforcers of apartheid? When the British government and the Irish Republican Army swallowed pride and distaste to negotiate seriously, rather than win outright, the war in Northern Ireland ended.

    The rebels receive foreign support, funds and weapons, as the regime says. And, as the opposition says, the regime has blood on its hands. Yet to whom will they speak if not to each other? Both claim to be Syrians fighting for Syria. Call their bluff. Let Russia bring Assad kicking and screaming to the table, while the US and its allies do the same with the opposition. Is that course really less realistic, or less helpful to Syria, than all-out war?

    Listen, for a moment at least, to the people who signed the Rome statement. They include the Democratic Forum’s Michel Kilo, a respected writer from northern Syria who did his first prison stretch under Assad’s father 30 years ago. When he returned after years in exile, he landed back in prison. Yet he clings to the nonviolence that he believes will save Aleppo and other cities from destruction. Another is Riad Draar of the Islamic Democratic Current. Five years in a Syrian prison for “inciting sectarian strife” and “spreading false news” did not turn him to violence. They and the other signatories have credibility among Syrians aware of the both the regime’s and the insurgents’ flaws. One sentence in the Rome statement resonates with Syrians who have been expelled from their homes or seen those they love killed by either side: “The military solution is holding the Syrian people hostage and does not offer a political solution capable of responding to the people’s deepest aspirations.”
    Charles Glass , 29 July 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/29/syria-route-of-compromise

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