Security forces in crackdown on Lebanon-Syria border smuggling operations

UN peacekeeping forces patrol the Lebanese border fence with Israel. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Security forces in crackdown on Lebanon-Syria border smuggling operations

  • Various moves have taken place over recent weeks to beef up border controls

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government has stepped up efforts to crack down on smuggling operations along its border with Syria which ministers claim are posing major security and economic threats to the country.

Despite Lebanese security forces making 449 arrests and thwarting 336 attempts to smuggle goods and people over a network of crossings, illegal movements to evade customs continue to impact on the Lebanese pound. And ministers have been told that more than 80 percent of illicit trade is taking place at legitimate border crossings between the two countries.

As well as the smuggling of people and goods and the infiltration of terrorists into Lebanese territory, officials have also been battling to prevent Hezbollah fighters from illegally crossing into Syria and back. Various moves have taken place over recent weeks to beef up border controls.

A UN delegation, presided over by the British Ministry of Defense’s senior adviser on the Middle East, Lt. Gen. Sir John Lorimer, inspected Lebanon’s southern borders with Israel and held meetings with Lebanese political and military officials to discuss the expansion of the eastern borders control area and the building, with UK assistance, of more observation towers.

Separately, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab visited the northern and eastern borders after the government put him in charge of finding a solution to illegal border crossings and smuggling operations.

And the US and UK ambassadors to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard and Chris Rampling respectively, visited the eastern borders accompanied by the Lebanese Army Chief Joseph Aoun to oversee border control operations in the lead-up to the linking of observation towers equipped with satellite technology to assist with army monitoring work.

Lebanese Minister of Interior Raya Al-Hassan and Bou Saab briefed the country’s Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice on measures being taken to deal with illegal border activities.

Bou Saab said the northern border with Syria was 100 km long, while the eastern border stretched for 210 km, adding that the Lebanese Army had thwarted 336 smuggling attempts and arrested 449 smugglers, of which 290 were Lebanese, 145 Syrians, seven Palestinians and seven of other nationalities.

Head of the committee, Georges Adwan, said: “There are dozens of illegal crossings that represent an important threat. Customs evasion through illegal crossing represents 10 percent but the larger portion of evasion takes place through legitimate crossings, with 80 percent or more.

“Some smugglers were arrested for two months before they were released and went back to their smuggling operations.”

Addressing the committee, Bou Saab said: “There are 10 to 15 illegal crossings that were closed by the army. However, smugglers opened new crossing points about 50 meters away the next day. Without an actual demarcation of the borders, we cannot say that we control 100 percent of the borders. Vegetables and fruits are being smuggled from Syria, which is harming Lebanese farmers.”

Economist Ghazi Wazni said: “The Syrian pound has significantly lost its value. Smuggled goods are replaced by foreign currencies that go to Syria.” Bou Saab gave an example of how illegal trades took place. 

“A Syrian truck arrives at the northern borders of Nahr Al-Kabir River where it unloads onto smaller trucks and motorcycles. They cross the border within half-an-hour using a wooden bridge placed above the river. We remove such bridges, only to find them again at a different location.”

The Lebanese Army has 200 border posts, of which 74 contain advanced towers provided mainly by the UK but also the US, Germany and Canada.

“There are pedestrian crossings to smuggle individuals and terrorists. They were also used to smuggle weapons from Lebanon to Syria during the war,” added Bou Saab. “There are goods that cross the border with a customs declaration.”

Lebanese MP, George Okais, told Arab News, that Bou Saab had “contacted the relevant parties in Syria to close some illegal borders with dirt” in a bid to stop people smuggling which represented “a dangerous threat.”

Online revolution in the hands of Lebanese youth

Updated 41 sec ago

Online revolution in the hands of Lebanese youth

BEIRUT: The Lebanese youth revolt against tax increases and corruption began on social media with protests about a proposed levy on WhatsApp, bringing dissent from the virtual world to the real world.

For the first five days of the demonstrations, television images transmitted live to the Lebanese public provided the incentive for people to take to the streets.

On the sixth day, activists reconsidered social media, and WhatsApp has become the most-used platform to transmit live images.

The objection of Lebanese army soldiers to motorcyclists holding the flags of Amal and Hezbollah led to the protest rally in Riad Al-Solh Square in central Beirut on Monday night. This reassured those who were still apprehensive about taking to the street.

The “electronic revolution” is parallel to the revolution on the streets. It is mostly comprised of young people aged 12 and above.

Politicians should talk to these young people using modern means, which is what Prime Minister Saad Hariri has done. On his Twitter account, Hariri tweeted part of his speech after the cabinet meeting: “I will not allow anyone to threaten young demonstrators. Your voice is heard, and if your demand is an early election to make your voice heard, I am with you. You have returned the Lebanese identity to its right place outside any sectarian restriction.”

Activists leading the protests have been devising various forms of electronic attraction to motivate people to take to the street, including a video with the signature “Do you know why?” It includes songs about how to defy injustice, recounting the reasons for the revolution and filing “preliminary” demand papers summarizing the demands of people speaking on the street and in front of the cameras.

The hashtag #down_with_Bank_governor coincided with the move by some activists on Tuesday to the Central Bank of Lebanon to protest against the policy of its governor Riad Salameh. However, the response came through the same electronic means and other applications defending the governor.

Many rumors are circulating on social media, including that the president summoned the TV media for consultation and that there is a fear that the aim is to pressure the owners of the TV stations to stop transmitting live demonstrations to prevent protesters from expressing their opinion.

The most well-known action was that of the sister of the Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil resorting to social media to defend President Aoun and her brother.

Dr. Iman Eliwan, a professor of modern media, said that young Lebanese view social media as their “only platform of expression, and touching it ignited the first spark of the protests. And resorting to it during the protests aimed at activating ‘networking’ to prevent any possibility of laxity and to remain united using one language.”

And whether the absence of a unified reference for the movement is caused by this “networking,” she said: “It is possible that there may be group leaders on social media, and they consider these platforms as their strength.”

Eliwan added: “These young people express deep anger and this happens at their age. We used to say that they belonged to the Sofa Party. But they went down to the streets. They control the streets. Maybe they are marginalized in their homes and in their communities.”

Asked if these online revolutions have achieved any results, she said: “It has not reached anywhere in the experiences that we have seen in the Arab world. It can ignite the spark and activate the movement, but the horizon of this movement is deadlocked.”