Tags / Beqaa
Set largely against a bleak grey sky, this video sheds light on the rough conditions in which many are forced to spend the winter months in Ersal, a northern Lebanese town with a large population of Syrian refugees that's long since been troubled with spillover from the civil war next door. The scene of major clashes between the Lebanese government and Al-Nusra/ISIS in August 2014, the video reveals the town's struggles to cope with harsh winter conditions such as strong wind and snow storms.
SnowStorm "Yohan" in Ersal
February 8, 2015
This video shows fighters from the Nusra Front in the outskirts of the Lebanese of Arsal, located on the border with Syria, conducting maneuvers with live ammunition. Video also includes rare interviews with two members of the Nusra Front acknowledging that their group is holding Lebanese soldiers captive and accusing the Lebanese government and Hezbollah of thwarting negotiations to release them.
The fighters also claim that the Nusra Front is protecting the Syrian refugees in Arsal.
At least 40 Islamist fighters in the nearby border area of Ras Baalbek were killed in clashes with the Lebanese Army on January 23.
Fighters from the Nusra Front and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, took control of Arsal in August 2014 for several days and kidnapped dozens of Lebanese soldiers and security officers and executed some of them. Lebanese government forces regained control of Arsal while hills outside the town are still controlled by fighters from these two groups.
On February 13, 2015, following the broadcast of this video, the Nusra Front said that the comments made in the interviews here do not represent the official position of the organization.
SHOTLIST AND TRANSCRIPT
- Various of streets in Arsal
- Traveling of Dawar al-Barmil street in Arsal; Islamic State flag graffiti can be seen on the wall
- Wide/ R-L pan of Arsal Municipality building
- Wide/ L-R pan of Arsal
- Various of fighters training to occupy military posts using live ammunition
- Close-up of fighters’ hands while making tea
- Close-up of fighter’s hands filling up a Kalashnikov magazine
SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Abu Bakr al-Mujahid, Nusra Front Fighter
04:09 – 05:06
“We are in Arsal because there are Syrian refugees. We are protecting them, God willing. What is more important is that Arsal is adjacent to Shiite villages, where there rawafidh [pejorative term for Shiites] and the Party of Satan [Hezbollah], who are slaughtering our children in Syria. We do not interfere in the politics of the Lebanese government. Had Hezbollah not intervened [in Syria] we would not have interfered with [Lebanese politics]. Concerning our numbers and equipment, we usually do not disclose information about this. These are military secrets. We are positioned on the frontlines adjacent to the Nussairi [Alawite] enemy in Syria. We ask God almighty to keep us steadfast and patient to exterminate this enemy.
SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Abu Qutada al-Ansari, Nusra Front Fighter
05:07 – 07:04
"We are present in Arsal because there are Syrian refugees. We take care of protecting and supporting them, with the will of God. More importantly, Arsal is adjacent to the rawafidh villages and the Safavid Party of Satan. We do not interfere in the policies of the Lebanese state. Had the Party of Satan not intervened [in Syria] we would not have interfered with [Lebanese politics].
In the name of God,
We did not kidnap Lebanese soldiers, but we are negotiating with the Lebanese government. We are currently holding [the Lebanese soldiers] and they are in our care. Our demands are clear and are not costly for the Lebanese state: let the men and women out of your prisons and you shall be given the Lebanese prisoners immediately. It is not us who are complicating things. It is your government which is placing hurdles in the way of releasing them [the Lebanese soldiers]. Unfortunately, the Party of Satan was able to drag the Lebanese State into things that have bad consequences. [Hezbollah] is placing obstacles and causing the failure of the negotiations. Nevertheless, negotiations are still ongoing but extremely slowly. As I told you before, it is not us who are causing the negotiations to fail. "
A mosque in the Bequaa Valley on the approach to Arsel.
looking into Beqaa Valley from the Beirut highway in the west.
Hundreds of families are coming across the border daily to flee the shelling in latest military offensive in Yabrud, Syria. The refugees we spoke to -- who had literally just gotten off the lorries they had used to travel across the border -- were visibly shell-shocked from their trip, which has gotten increasingly dangerous. Several spoke to us about Syrian regime aircraft actively targeting fleeing refugees. They're settling in makeshift camps on land that is technically Lebanese territory, but is beyond the last Lebanese army checkpoint and is therefore considered no-man's land. Their situation is devastating - most have no running water, over three families are living in each tent, there are no bathrooms or steady food supplies, and aid organizations are rarely making their way out into this area. The refugees are too afraid to move past Arsal because of the Hezbollah-controlled areas in the Bekaa, and others are even too scared to enter Arsal itself. So they're stuck, with shelling on one side of the border and an unfriendly Lebanese government on the other.
March 6th 2013, one Million refugee officially registered at the centre in Tripoli, Lebanon. A number expected in June 2013. Today it is estimated that double this number have crossed into Lebanon, that's how much the situation is getting worse.
Since the Syrian revolution started in January 2011, families have escaped their home, leaving all their belongings behind, their houses destroyed, terrorised, looking for a safer place to live. In August 2011, the UNHCR launched the Tripoli registration centre, ensuring extension of services to persons under its mandate. 600 to 800 refugees register there every day. 2000 register daily in all of Lebanon. And today there are 7000 daily registrations throughout the region, in the countries of asylum, including Lebanon, Jordan, turkey, Egypt and Iraq.
This project is about portraying the lives of Syrian refugees across Lebanon; their struggles, their strength, their weaknesses, their hope of returning home... one day.
Are their rights as refugees being acknowledged? Being outside of their home country, are Syrian children having access to education? Are Syrian men and women being able to work independently to earn a living? Are Syrian elderly having access to health care?
"Please! Take a picture of me and my children. Let the world see!" said to me a syrian woman during a visit to Halba in Northern Lebanon. Disseminating those life abstracts can only generate and enhance awareness. More people are becoming conscious about the situation and are now more involved in helping the ones in need. Some photos are taken at the UNHCR centre in Tripoli, where men, women, children and elderly refugees gather and wait for their turn to register. They stand in front of the gates sometimes under heavy rains, with no shelter. After registering, they will eventually get the help they need. Other photos were taken in Halba, in tiny apartments where 20 people live under one roof. Some women found each other at the Women Association Centre of Northern Lebanon, and started learning and making accessories to earn a living, while others live off charity contributions. Some more photos were shot at the Beqaa Valley, where Syrian families wander around the streets to find a shelter, holding their babies in their arms, and hiding from the rain. But the generosity of the locals had been tremendous, taking them voluntarily under their roof. They are now refugees. A fate they did not choose.
A bridge destroyed by Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon under construction