Lebanon News

Tensions escalate on northern border with Syria

In Abboudieh, the Syrian Army has pitched new tents where soldiers are on guard duty. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

WADI KHALED, Lebanon: Tensions were high on the northern border with Syria Tuesday following more than a week of nighttime clashes and Monday’s abduction of two members of General Security by Syrian forces.

There are conflicting reports about the kidnapping, in which the two Lebanese were taken from the border village of Bqayaa to the Syrian village of Msharfeh. They were returned after about an hour.

Some sources said that the people who entered Lebanon and took the General Security members were “Shabbiha,” members of pro-regime gangs; others reported they were part of the Syrian Army or security forces.

President Michel Sleiman called the abduction “unacceptable” in a statement, saying it “violates international laws and norms on the one hand, and surpasses the coordination between the two countries along the borders [on the other].”

Monday’s incident was not isolated, however. Several residents of Wadi Khaled said that the past 10 days have seen an increase in nighttime confrontations between the Syrian Army and armed groups on the Lebanese side of the border. They reported hearing gunfire near the northern petroleum pipeline and the Ridani border crossing that leads to Msharfeh.

The residents added that armed groups often fire from Lebanon into Syria, prompting the Syrian army to respond with what they called “indiscriminate” gunfire. This has been causing damage to homes and land, not to mention inducing a state of panic among locals.

Sources said that some people are relocating to villages further from the border, fearing for their safety.

The incidents have prompted the leaders of Wadi Khaled’s clans to hold a series of meetings, in an effort to shelter the area from tension at the border. The area’s most significant families are the Ghneims and the Atiqs.

Sheikh Ali al-Ali, the leader of the Atiq family, said in a phone call that the abduction of the General Security members was not a one-off.

“The problem at the border happened when some non-military Syrian elements crossed the border and reached a shared station used for searching [at the border by both countries],” Ali said.

“This came after a series of incidents in the past for two weeks, which has led us as clans to ... take a series of measures to protect our area.”

Sheikh Ali added that his family “will no longer cover for those who shoot from Lebanese land, and we have asked the Lebanese Army to control the border.

“If we catch anyone shooting from Lebanese land, we will hand him to the state. But if we find them dead, it will be their own fault. We are not responsible for such deaths. Our family customs say not to attack or cause damage.”

Ali said that he had met with ISF commander Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, and informed him of this decision. While returning from the meeting at around 10 p.m. Monday in Bqayaa, he said his car was “showered with bullets from the Syrian side, but there were no injuries.”

“This incident reveals the danger in which we are living, and the reasons for taking firm measures.

“We are not connected to what is happening in Syria. We do not accept attacks from our side [of the border], but we will also not accept attacks on us from the Syrian side,” he added.

Elsewhere, at the Abboudieh border crossing, the Syrian Army has pitched new tents where soldiers are on guard duty. Residents who live near the Lebanese side of the border said the area is in a high state of alert. They said there have been no recent nighttime clashes, but snipers have been aiming at cars that drive through the crossing in the dark.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 04, 2012, on page 3.




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