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.”


Amnesty slams Qatar tracing app for exposing data of a million users

Updated 52 min 22 sec ago

Amnesty slams Qatar tracing app for exposing data of a million users

  • Glitch made users’ ID numbers, location, infection status vulnerable to hackers
  • More than 47,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for

DOHA: A security flaw in Qatar’s controversial mandatory coronavirus contact tracing app exposed sensitive information of more than one million users, rights group Amnesty International warned Tuesday.
The glitch, which was fixed on Friday after being flagged by Amnesty a day earlier, made users’ ID numbers, location and infection status vulnerable to hackers.
Privacy concerns over the app, which became mandatory for residents and citizens on pain of prison from Friday, had already prompted a rare backlash and forced officials to offer reassurance and concessions.
Users and experts had criticized the array of permissions required to install the app including access to files on Android devices, as well as allowing the software to make unprompted phone calls.
Despite insisting the unprecedented access was necessary for the system to work, officials said they would address privacy concerns and issued reworked software over the weekend.
“Amnesty International’s Security Lab was able to access sensitive information, including people’s name, health status and the GPS coordinates of a user’s designated confinement location, as the central server did not have security measures in place to protect this data,” the rights group said in a statement.
“While Amnesty International recognizes the efforts and actions taken by the government of Qatar to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures introduced to date, such as access to free health care, all measures must be in line with human rights standards.”
More than 47,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for the respiratory disease — 1.7 percent of the population — and 28 people have died.
Like other countries, Qatar has turned to mobiles to trace people’s movements and track who they come into contact with, allowing officials to monitor coronavirus infections and flag possible contagion.
“The Ehteraz app’s user privacy and platform security are of the utmost importance,” Qatar’s health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
“A comprehensive update of the app was rolled out on Sunday May 24 with expanded security and privacy features for all users.”
But Etheraz, which means “Precaution,” continues to allow real-time location tracking of users by authorities at any time, Amnesty said.
“It was a huge security weakness and a fundamental flaw in Qatar’s contact tracing app that malicious attackers could have easily exploited,” said Claudio Guarnieri, head of the group’s security lab.
“The Qatari authorities must reverse the decision to make use of the app mandatory,” he said.