Friday, March 7, 2014

The Lebanese Border Town in the Middle of Syria's Civil War

Long before Syria's civil war broke out, the Lebanese border town of Arsal was known as a hub of smuggling activity. The surrounding mountainous terrain is perfect for sneaking contraband of all sorts between Lebanon and neighboring Syria — and that's why Arsal has become a focal point for Lebanese security agencies, Hezbollah, refugees, foreign jihadists, Syrian opposition fighters, and the Syrian regime.

This week, Syrian warplanes fired missiles at the outskirts of the town shortly before the Nusra Front launched grenades into Arsal from across the border in Syria. Arsal is the lone Sunni Muslim village in Lebanon’s predominately Shiite Bekaa Valley, and the local population of about 35,000 is sympathetic to opposition forces fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad — a combination that makes it a target several times over.

A man I meet named Abu Hussein is perched on a couch in his modest apartment in central Arsal, sitting on his feet while smoking a cigarette. Four of his brothers are currently in Yabroud, just across the border, fighting against Syrian forces with the Islamic Front’s Farouk Brigades. Hussein isn't avoiding the conflict, however — he's busy smuggling fighters in and out of Syria.

read more: