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Aid convoy reaches Tfail but need is great

Lebanese Red Cross workers carry an injured man who was wounded by the Syrian government forces, as they pass in front of Lebanese and Syrian women in the main square of Tfail village, at the Lebanese-Syrian border, eastern Lebanon, Tuesday April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BRITAL/BEIRUT: Resident of Tfail found some reprieve from a monthslong siege Tuesday, as an aid convoy reached the remote border village.

The convoy was able to pass through an unpaved, mountainous road east of the Baalbek town of Brital after Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk held security meetings over the weekend attended by high-ranking Hezbollah officials.

In recent months, the Syrian army and Hezbollah cut off the main road most Lebanese residents use to access Tfail, leaving the 3,000 Lebanese and an estimated 5,000 Syrian refugees residing in the village isolated and without basic supplies.

After a weekend meeting at the Interior Ministry, attended by Hezbollah’s top security official Wafiq Safa, the convoy was allowed to pass through the crude, mountainous road linking Tfail to the rest of the Lebanese territory. The road is a few meters across, Machnouk said, and is only passable in a 4x4 vehicle.

“This village is surrounded on three sides by the Syrian regime army, by the Syrian opposition and by Hezbollah. Contact with the Syrian regime is not possible and useless. Contact with the Syrian opposition is not effective. Our only choice was contacting Hezbollah, because it is a reality that Hezbollah is present in the area,” Machnouk said.

General Security established a checkpoint near Ham, a small town between Brital and Tfail.

At the checkpoint, security officials checked the passports and IDs of every member of the convoy, recording the names of everyone who was to enter Tfail.

The caravan included six vehicles packed with food, supplies and medical assistance, and five Lebanese Red Cross cars, as well as two additional vehicles carrying fuel oil. The convoy, accompanied by units from the Lebanese Army, the ISF and General Security, was met with a scene of joy as they entered the village. “All the people gathered in the village square. They threw rice at the cars and slaughtered a lamb,” said an aid worker, asking to remain anonymous.

Traveling with the convoy, his aid organization, Igatheyya, brought 500 boxes of food, 500 bags of bread, and 3,000 mattresses to Tfail.

The aid worker noted that several buildings in the village were hit by artillery, and that the refugees were living in makeshift encampments under trees.

The Lebanese Red Cross evacuated seven people from Tfail, including two Lebanese and five Syrians.

Despite the shipment of aid, the need is still great in Tfail, the aid worker said: “When we left, and they saw we didn’t have any tents for them, they were shocked. Some even began to cry when they saw we were leaving without giving any tents. ... The people need shelter.”

Aside from basic supplies, residents of Tfail fear the encroaching Syrian army, which is engaged in a major offensive in the surrounding Qalamoun region. In recent weeks, the Syrian army has captured nearby towns, including Rankous, which had served as a lifeline for the residents of Tfail.

“We used to go and buy our bread from Rankous,” said one resident of Tfail who asked not to be identified. “But now we’re cut off.”

A senior security source said that the General Security checkpoint near the town of Ham would be sealed at midnight Tuesday. He said he anticipated Syrian troops would move into the town and its immediate environs, where they suspect opposition fighters have taken refuge.

Aid workers said upon entering Arsal they received a document from the General Security checkpoint attesting that they had left Lebanese territories although Tfail is considered Lebanese land. They received an entry stamp when they came back from the village, workers said.

Zaynab, a Syrian aid worker in the village, insisted that no fighters had entered Tfail and that the border was being monitored by a community patrol to ensure no gunmen entered.

Another security source, however, said it was unlikely that the Syrian regime would invade the town, even if there were a number of fighters residing there. Hezbollah and the Syrian regime have been seeking to ease tensions in Tfail and the Lebanese border town of Arsal, the source said, to prevent the Syrian conflict from seeping further onto Lebanese soil.

Still, Tfail has been subjected to a barrage of artillery from the Syrian regime over the past week, and it remains unclear whether aid workers will be able to access the village in the coming weeks.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 23, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Resident of Tfail found some reprieve from a monthslong siege Tuesday, as an aid convoy reached the remote border village.

In recent months, the Syrian army and Hezbollah cut off the main road most Lebanese residents use to access Tfail, leaving the 3,000 Lebanese and an estimated 5,000 Syrian refugees residing in the village isolated and without basic supplies.

The convoy, accompanied by units from the Lebanese Army, the ISF and General Security, was met with a scene of joy as they entered the village.

Aid workers said upon entering Arsal they received a document from the General Security checkpoint attesting that they had left Lebanese territories although Tfail is considered Lebanese land.

Still, Tfail has been subjected to a barrage of artillery from the Syrian regime over the past week, and it remains unclear whether aid workers will be able to access the village in the coming weeks.


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