Lebanon’s battered economy spurs smuggling across Syrian border

Lebanon’s battered economy spurs smuggling across Syrian border
Hezbollah flags flutter at the entrance of Mays Al-Jabal village in Lebanon. Hezbollah use land routes to smuggle weapons and money to the Syrian regime. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 December 2020

Lebanon’s battered economy spurs smuggling across Syrian border

Lebanon’s battered economy spurs smuggling across Syrian border
  • The Information Division found that a new gang, whose members are Lebanese, had been active in Mount Lebanon and carried out several robberies

BEIRUT: The border region between Lebanon and Syria in Baalbek-Hermel in eastern Lebanon often experiences security tensions that rise and fall depending on the smuggling operations being carried out there.
On Saturday, Syrian army border guards fired at a number of young men at one of the illegal crossings, known as the Arida border crossing, in the border village of Al-Qasr, killing one Lebanese man and wounding another.
Smuggling occurs in both directions, but smuggling from Lebanon to Syria has become more common with deteriorating economic conditions in the two countries and the sanctions imposed on Syria. This includes smuggling basic goods subsidized by the Lebanese state such as flour, fuel and medicine. There are also illegal routes for smuggling stolen cars. Products smuggled to Syria also include raw materials for manufacturing and car parts.
Earlier this month these borders saw a clash between smugglers and a Syrian army patrol. Light and medium weapons were used during the chase in a Syrian area near the Lebanese border town of Hosh Al-Sayyed Ali. A Syrian army officer was killed and two personnel wounded.
The Lebanese army, in cooperation with the Intelligence Directorate, then carried out a raid in the Lebanese region to find those who fired and fled toward Lebanese territory. The Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) two days ago arrested two young Syrians (19 and 23 years old), who were planning to steal cars and smuggle them into Syrian territory. One of them had previously smuggled people from Syria to Lebanon, according to the Information Division of the ISF.
The Information Division found that a new gang, whose members are Lebanese, had been active in Mount Lebanon and carried out several robberies. Two of the arrested gang members confessed to transporting the stolen cars to the Bekaa region, and from there to Syrian territory.
Last year, Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council counted “more than 124 smuggling crossings between Lebanon and Syria.” Former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said during a discussion of the draft budget in Parliament last year that smugglers had the audacity to name crossings after specific products, persons, towns or directions. “This is one of the most prominent signs of the state dissolution in carrying out its duties,” he said.

SPEEDREAD

Since 2012, Hezbollah has been relying on a network of illegal crossings linking the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and the western Qalamoun villages in the countryside of Damascus to smuggle goods, weapons and drugs into Syria, according to the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

The Syrian Opposition Coalition provided information to the committee drafting the Caesar Act in the US administration about “land routes and tunnels used by Lebanon’s Hezbollah to smuggle weapons, money and fuel to the Syrian regime.”
It stated: “Since 2012, Hezbollah has been relying on a network of illegal crossings linking the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and the western Qalamoun villages in the countryside of Damascus to smuggle goods, weapons and drugs into Syria. Four of these routes are main roads linking the borders between the two countries, in addition to other secondary crossings.”
The information also highlighted that there are powerful people and families in the towns between the two countries who oversee the smuggling of goods from Lebanon.
Lawyer Ashraf Al-Moussawi told Arab News: “The phenomenon of car theft has escalated in a frightening manner, until the number of stolen cars exceeded 136 in one month, at a rate of four to five cars per day.”
Al-Moussawi said that cars stolen from Lebanon are found in the Al-Suwayda car market, which publishes ads on social media under the title “A Key and a Car.”
“The victim can ask about their car by calling a phone number, through which he can agree to take back the car in exchange for a sum of money, and the car will be delivered at the Lebanese-Syrian border,” he said.
People, often ex-convicts or gang members, who take stolen cars from Beirut or Mount Lebanon to the border can make up to 2 million Lebanese pounds by doing this.
A security source told Arab News: “Some of those may be Lebanese security personnel on active duty lured by quick money. They may also be retired members of the military who have joined gangs. If this person transported, for instance, four cars per month, he receives five or six times his monthly salary. When he drives the car, he does not draw the attention of the security forces. Some of them were arrested in a manner similar to a security scandal, and they are still in detention.”


Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections
Updated 16 January 2021

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections
  • The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide
  • The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62 percent support to replace the late Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday announced dates for the first Palestinian elections in more than 15 years, setting legislative polls for May 22 and a July 31 presidential vote.
Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority based in the occupied West Bank, and the Hamas group, who hold power in Gaza, have for years expressed interest in taking Palestinians back to the polls.
A long-standing rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions was seen as a leading factor in stalling progress toward a new vote.
But Fatah and Hamas have lately been engaged in unity talks, reaching an agreement in principle in September to hold elections in 2021.
Hamas on Friday welcomed Abbas’s announcement.
“In recent months, we have worked to overcome obstacles in order to reach this day,” it said in a statement.
It added that it looked to “free elections in which voters can express themselves without pressure and without restrictions, in all fairness and transparency.”
A statement on the official Palestinian Wafa news agency said Abbas has signed “a presidential decree concerning elections,” specifying the May and July dates.
“This announcement was eagerly awaited,” Palestinian analyst Arif Jaffal, head of the Arab World Democracy and Electoral Monitor, told AFP.
“It is a very important step,” he said.
The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62 percent support to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
There has been no indication from Fatah as to whether the 85-year-old Abbas intends to seek re-election.
A rare poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research carried out last year said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.

The statement from Abbas said he expects polls will be held “in all governorates of Palestine, including east Jerusalem,” which was annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War but is considered occupied territory.
Israel bans all Palestinian Authority activity in east Jerusalem, and there was no indication the Jewish state would allow a Palestinian vote within the city.
Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces his own re-election contest in March, describes Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said his government “was ready to get things going to facilitate the electoral process, in total transparency, while waiting for pluralism.”
Some 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, while the densely populated Gaza Strip is home to two million.
The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide.
The polls resulted in a brief unity government but it soon collapsed and in 2007, bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions, with Hamas ultimately seizing control of Gaza.
Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.
But experts have said intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks have taken on greater urgency following a series of US-brokered normalization agreements signed between Israel and four Arab states.
The deals to normalize ties with Israel signed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan were condemned across the Palestinian political spectrum.
They also broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognition of Israel until it reached an agreement to end the Palestinian conflict that included the creation of Palestinian state, with a capital in east Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders have also voiced hope that the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will lead to renewed diplomacy on the Palestinian cause.
The PA cut ties with President Donald Trump’s administration, accusing it of egregious bias toward Israel.