BEIRUT: The seizure of thousands of rounds of ammunition being smuggled across the Syrian border has exposed Lebanon’s soaring trade in personal weapons.
A Lebanese border patrol intercepted two men on a known smuggling route on the outskirts of Yanta, about 80 km east of Beirut.
One of the men hurled an explosive device at the soldiers, four of whom were wounded in the incident on Friday night.
“The patrol managed to arrest one of them, a Syrian, and seized four ammunition boxes containing 2,800 rounds of 7.62 mm cartridges. Searches are underway for the other person,” army command said.
A Lebanese military source told Arab News the arrested man was being interrogated for information about the transfer of weapons between Syria and Lebanon.
“Military patrols usually find goods and contraband, but this is the first time that smuggled ammunition from Syria to Lebanon has been detected,” the source said.
Firearms have been involved in several recent incidents in Lebanon, such as gunfire during the funerals of Beirut port explosion victims, and armed clashes between Hezbollah supporters and authorities in Khaldeh.
“It seems there is a demand for weapons in Lebanon, and we received information about high prices due to the high demand.” An arms dealer in the Bekaa region bordering Syria told Arab News how the trade worked.
“The carrier, usually Syrian, transports the arms to Lebanese border areas and is paid in dollars, Syrian pounds, or even Lebanese pounds, provided the pricing is based on the dollar price on the black market.
The buyers display the weapons in their homes, and customers contact them to choose what they wish to buy for personal protection.
“People who have a million dollars at home need a weapon to protect themselves and their money from theft, and anyone who sees the tension in the street at the moment would rush to arm himself to defend his family.”
The dealer said the four boxes of ammunition seized on the border would each have cost about 1.4 million pounds, or $930. “Ammunition prices rose two days ago. The dealers keep an eye on the security situation and tensions and set the prices accordingly,” he said.
The most in-demand weapon was a Russian-made Kalashnikov rifle with Noveske ammunition made by the US company Nosler. “The price of a Kalashnikov is $500,” he said.
“There is little demand for Iranian weapons, and whoever wants to show off their weapon would buy an American one.
“The most wanted American weapons are the M16 and M4, which cost $1,500. The original, made in the US, costs about $7,000. This is usually bought by drug dealers to show off because it has a fast shooting speed.”
The world of arms trafficking “is like any other trade,” the Lebanese dealer said. “There are agents for arms manufacturing companies, and they don’t mind bringing the weapons from another agent in Israel or anywhere else. Syria is a chaotic country in terms of security.”