BEIRUT: Hezbollah fighters entered Tfail in east Lebanon over the weekend in search of Syrian opposition fighters reportedly seeking refuge in the embattled village, according to the local mukhtar and residents.
Ali Ashoum, Tfail’s mukhtar, told The Daily Star Hezbollah fighters entered the villageSaturday morning in “a calm and orderly manner.”
“They haven’t arrested anyone, they haven’t taken any gunmen yet, and they aren’t interfering with the families there,” Ashoum said.
The fighters have stationed themselves in three buildings in the village and are “significant in number,” according to resident Omar Saadeddine, who is in direct contact with the Tfail residents that remained in the village after the bulk fled to Arsal.
Ashoum added that he was in talks with the mufti in the region to set up an appointment with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk to encourage those that fled to return.
For the mukhtar, Hezbollah’s presence in the village was prompted by media reports that opposition fighters were hiding in Tfail.
“Whenever they [the media] talk about Qalamoun, they say the fighters fled to Tfail, and now Hezbollah militants have positioned themselves in abandoned buildings in Tfail.”
While the mukhtar dismissed the notion that there was a Syrian rebel presence in the village, he confirmed they were lying low outside it.
Adopting a neutral stance, the mukhtar said he was relying on the Lebanese government to communicate with Hezbollah and ensure they left the village peacefully so the residents were able to return. He said there were only a handful of locals left that stayed to watch their homes.
“Ramadan is starting this week, and we want to do the best we can to allow families to return to their homes,” he said.
Dozens of Lebanese families fled Tfail last week amid heavy shelling by forces loyal to the Syrian regime and reports that their troops were near.
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. The lack of passable routes has discouraged the state from sending forces.
While the mukhtar initiated contact to ensure the safe return of Tfail’s residents, locals from the majority Sunni village of just 3,000, said they were reluctant to go back. In the past day, about 150 families arrived to Arsal from the village, according to Zeinab, a local who fled 15 days ago.
“We cannot go back to the village, the Sunnis are being killed,” said Saadeddine, who fled after his cousin was killed in a regime-led airstrike.
“We are trying to seek refugee status with organizations in Arsal but no one cares about us,” he said.