BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Tfail vacated as Syrian army nears

File - Lebanese and Syrian women watch the arrival of an aid supplies convoy, as they gather at the main square of Tfail village, at the Lebanese-Syrian border, eastern Lebanon, Tuesday April 22, 2014.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: Some 20 Lebanese families have abandoned Tfail over the past week, amid heavy shelling by forces loyal to the Syrian regime and reports that the country’s troops are now just 1 kilometer away from the tiny eastern border village.

With the threat of more violence coming ever closer, both Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees in Tfail are now being forced to flee via smuggling routes through Syria or else risk being caught in the crossfire of a battle that is edging ever closer to the Lebanese border. As a result, residents of Tfail are believed to be the first Lebanese to flee a village in the country as a result of the Syrian war.

“Most residents have now fled the village, even the refugees,” said a Syrian man who left Tfail earlier this week.

Some fled to Arsal, a Lebanese village in the northeastern Bekaa Valley some 35 kilometers away from Tfail. Upon arriving in Arsal, many of the displaced Lebanese were collected by family members from other parts of the country.

Some unlucky residents of Tfail, however, are stranded in the village because they cannot afford the $500 Syrian drivers are asking to take them to safety.

Tfail is located east of Brital on a promontory of Lebanese territory surrounded on three sides by Syria. There are no paved roads connecting Tfail to the Lebanese interior and for years, residents have bought supplies from Syrian towns and traveled through Syria to get to other places in Lebanon.

The predominantly Sunni village is home to some 3,000 Lebanese residents and 5,000 Syrian refugees who have settled there in recent months.

Although the Syrian government’s offensive – which Hezbollah is aiding – to retake the Qalamoun district of Syria subsided in March, there has been ongoing fighting in the area around Tfail for months that has intensified recently following rebel attacks on regime checkpoints. And while the Syrian towns around Tfail have fallen to regime forces over the past weeks, sources told The Daily Star that opposition fighters had ensconced themselves in and around the Lebanese village.

Dr. Bassem al-Faris, a Syrian doctor in Arsal, said he had treated a Syrian civilian who was wounded in the strikes this week. He was expecting eight individuals to arrive at his hospital Wednesday night from Tfail, assuming they made the perilous journey, which takes over five hours.

Future movement sources in Tfail said they feared the Syrian army and Hezbollah would tighten their grip on the village, which has been cut off from supplies and medical aid for months. Some fear the forces are preparing to invade the village itself.

Hezbollah could not immediately be reached for comment.

After discussions between Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Hezbollah, two aid convoys with food and medical supplies were able to pass into Tfail in recent weeks.

Citing security concerns, The Lebanese Army in April erected a new border crossing between Brital – the nearest Lebanese town – and Tfail, stamping passports and effectively deterring both refugees and local residents from traveling through.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 19, 2014, on page 4.

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