On Syrian border, artillery thumps in shadows of medieval castle
Syrian rebel fighters have taken refuge in an old crusader castle and villages on the Lebanese side of the border, drawing Syrian Army fire.
Nourat al-Tahta, north Lebanon
A string of Sunni-populated villages along Lebanon’s northern border with Syria has turned into an active war front, with Syrian rebel fighters using the area as a de facto safe haven. Their presence draws nightly bombardments from the Syrian Army, posing a security dilemma for the Lebanese government.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Reaching a critical juncture in Syria
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At least four civilians have been killed and several more wounded since the nightly Syrian artillery bombardments began more than a week ago, targeting an area of some 32 square miles between this small village and the Wadi Khaled district 12 miles further east. Each night, the targeted Sunni villages empty as residents flee for safer areas away from the border.
“We are poor. We have no money. We are neglected by the government. And now the Syrian shelling has turned us into refugees in our own villages,” says Ahmad, a gaunt-faced, lanky farmer in his early 40s who lives in Nourat al-Tahta.
The border with Syria lies less than a mile north of Ahmad’s house. Here it follows the Kabir River, a shallow waterway that meanders through a steep wooded valley which provides some cover for Syrian civilians fleeing the violence in their homeland and for members of the rebel Free Syrian Army to slip in and out of the country at night.
Many of the villages in this area house large numbers of Syrian refugees, most of them with harrowing stories about atrocities they have witnessed and the dangers they braved to escape. Two young Syrian men from the mainly Sunni-populated town of Tel Kalakh, two miles north of the border, lay on mattresses on the floor of Ahmad’s house, resting from the sweltering midday heat. Pulling up his vest to expose the scar, one of them said he was shot in the chest by a Syrian sniper while riding a horse across the Kabir River into Lebanon a few months ago. He clung to the horse’s mane, bleeding heavily and made it to safety. The other said he was struck by bullets three times in his legs. He was in a party of seven that dashed across the border. Two members of the group were killed.
Now, however, casualties are closer to home for the residents of Nourat al-Tahta and neighboring villages.
Last week, a man died when he accidentally drove into a tree in his panic to flee shellfire in the village. The same night, two Syrians were cut down by shrapnel in the street. Mohammed, another Syrian from Tel Kalakh staying in Nourat al-Tahta, said he was hit by shrapnel while helping evacuate children from the village.
A foot-deep bomb crater beside a house with shell-pocked cinder block walls on the eastern entrance of Nourat al-Fawqa provides evidence that the Syrian Army is using large caliber artillery rounds to strike north Lebanon. Vicious heavy steel shrapnel shards lay scattered on the ground.
Lebanon struggles to respond
The Lebanese government, which is dominated by allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been hesitant to address the deteriorating security situation along the border, not only here but along other parts of the frontier that have witnessed brief Syrian troop incursions and isolated shelling.