Lebanon News

Syrian army attacks isolate border enclave

File - The dirt road that links the village of Tfeil to other Lebanese villages. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: The Syrian Army has launched a series of artillery strikes on the Lebanese border town of Tfail, causing both Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees to flee into the surrounding hills.

The town is located at the tip of a promontory on Lebanese territory east of Brital, surrounded on three sides by Syrian territory. The Syrian army and Hezbollah have taken several nearby Syrian towns in the past week, including Assal Al-Ouard, located only 5 km away from Tfail.

“Syrians from all villages surrounding Tfail have fled to the town in the wake of the Syrian army’s offensive,” said Zeynab, a Syrian aid worker in the village.

The remote town, home to 3,000 Lebanese and some 5,000 Syrian refugees, found itself in the Syrian Army’s sights earlier this week.

“The village was bombarded throughout Tuesday by the Syrian Army,” Zeynab told The Daily Star Friday. Many Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees have fled the town, seeking refuge in the surrounding hills on the Syrian side of the border.

The main access road to Tfail snakes from the promontory through the Syrian territory and back to the Bekaa Valley. This road, however, falls under the control of the Syrian Army, which is feared by Tfail’s residents.

A dirt road that leads directly through Lebanese land links Tfail and Brital, but is in very poor condition, while Tfail’s predominantly Sunni residents are afraid to pass through Brital, where most residents are Shiite and support Hezbollah.

The Lebanese government is aware of the increasingly desperate situation in Tfail, and has vowed to take action.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in remarks published Friday that he has been coordinating with Hezbollah to secure a passage into Lebanon for the residents of the border enclave.

“We are coordinating on all political and security levels and with Hezbollah to secure the passage of Lebanese residents who want to exit [Tfail],” Machnouk told pan Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Machnouk said he planned to create a road that would connect Tfail to Lebanon, saying the 23-kilometer route “is not that easy given that the area was planted with mines.”

Despite the Army’s security plan executed throughout the Bekaa in recent weeks, there is no Lebanese military presence in Tfail. Members of the town have created their own community patrols to ensure order.

Zeynab said that people in Tfail are afraid of a Syrian offensive that could target the town.

“You can see the Lebanese flag waving in the village, but there is not a single Lebanese soldier to protect the Lebanese people here,” she said.

Over the past year, Tfail’s residents have become increasingly isolated.

“Both the Lebanese and Syrians in Tfail are in desperate in need of powdered milk and flour,” said Zeynab.

Before the war, residents of Tfail could choose to purchase sundries either from Syria or Lebanon, and shops in the town accept both Syrian and Lebanese pounds.

Due to its remoteness, aid organizations have almost no access to Tfail, and Syrian refugees “are living under the sky,” Zeynab added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2014, on page 2.




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