Beirut Nights ~ a special report from Lebanon

Report and photograph: Luna Al Abdallah

Beirut looks different at night, active and alive. Some regions in Beirut are still awake, like its coast (Corniche). Painful stories could be heard there, like just three weeks ago, near the “Suicide Rock” in Raouche, the latest guy threw himself down the rock. He didn’t intend to kill himself, but he was threatening to the cops that he’d jump over if they attempted to seize him, and sadly he slipped down and died.

Besides similar stories, some gloomy tales are spread about Syrian people who work on the small boat-cruises, arriving and departing just underneath the rock. Another world is existing here, but you have to carefully look down the Rock to recognize it. The men here live in crash-houses with no windows, suffer cold and heat, or spend their nights homeless.
The Coast
Mustafa and his ten friends work on the boats.

“Two years ago, when my house in Damascus countryside (Sbeneh) has been destroyed, I have come to Lebanon for the first time. I couldn’t imagine staying here more than six months,” Mustafa said. Just before I got out of Syria, my family bailed up to Jordan with other relatives. They intended to settle down there, but unfortunately, detained by Syrian security at the Syrian borders, so, they decided to change their destination towards the Syrian camps in Turkey. At that time, I planned to go back to Syria to obtain my military service papers which enable me to get my passport, then I might catch my family up, but now, two years passed with no possibility to going back.”

Mustafa kept quiet and looked far away for a while, then continued, “After the first six months, and despite of the danger, I made up my mind to return back to Syria motivated by hope of seeing my family again, ignoring what my boss reaction could be. He strictly refused to let me go back, trying to convince me to improve my situation before getting back home. The very next day, I lost 2,200 dollars which was all what I owned. Now, I have only my national identity card and my clothes”.

“Life here is full of humiliation. No work, no life. We start working at 07:00 till 19:00 with no breaks, even without any pause to have breakfast or lunch. At the end of the workday, we earn 20000 L.P. (about 13 dollars). The boss pays us half of it (7 dollars) and reserves the rest to cut them off, just in case, one of us was absent for a while, then, we have to work without pay. This could happen twice a week, which obliged me to borrow* some money from my friend to buy food, and pay them back next day,” Mustafa said describing the work in Lebanon.

“I mightily tried to find other work but in vain. Firstly, we used to sleep in the open air under sky, and then we built those straw wooden rooms, hopeful, that our stay would not last such long time. We have been informed that, an investment project will be launching in this area, we have to go back jobless to the street.”


Mustafa also failed to obtain a refugee identity card. “I went to the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees; and presented my official papers to prove that I am a Syrian refugee with hope of getting the permission to join my family in Turkey. I did not know whether this step is useful or not, but however, I have nothing to lose. The organization gave me some documents to fill up and an appointment on the 14th of October, I kept the documents among my stuff where I live, but they were stolen. In fact I do not know who stole them and why..!. Anyway, I will try again and again!” Mustafa said.

The accurate statistics of Syrian workers percentage in Lebanon are not available, yet this percentage increases day by day due to continues migration of Syrian people since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. More than 750,000 refugees arrived to Lebanon, and most of the workers are between 12 and 20 years old.

A study about Syrian workers in Lebanon, prepared by the United Nations Committee on Economic and Social, titled “Syrian asylum repercussions on Lebanon”, declares that: 57% of 952 Syrian refugees are working illegally in Lebanon.

“I attempted to contact my family in Turkey; they don’t even know where I am, and all I know is that they stay in the camps in Turkey. No phone conversations for two years. The only solution is to go back to Syria and get my passport. According to a driver I spoke to, it is possible if I pay a sum of 100 $ (bribe) but no assured guarantees, in addition to, the risk of potential detention there by the Syrian regime.” Mustafa said.Mustafa

Mustafa Abo AL-Abdul Kader, his mother is Zeinab Kader, born in Manbij (Aleppo suburbs) in 1995, telling a story of two-years’ illegal work in Lebanon, underneath the suicide rock in Al Raouche, the place where stories of death* are told every day. “All I dream of is to talk to my family, and see them again,” Mustafa said, staring past the camera.

Report and photograph: Luna Al Abdallah


Syrian Regime of Bashar al-Assad Using Chemical Weapons Against Syrian Cities

From La Monde… Chemical warfare in Syria

La Monde’s reporters experience chemical attacks by the Assad regime first-hand. The article details the apparently systematic use of chemical weapons in order to break the rebel lines in the capital Damascus. This is a cynical manipulation of President Obama’s “red line”. These are chemical weapons attacks that will be let off on a technicality.

    Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.

    Reporters from Le Monde witnessed this on several days in a row in this district, on the outskirts of Damascus, which the rebels entered in January. Since then, Jobar has become a key battleground for both the Free Syrian Army and the government. In two months spent reporting on the outskirts of the Syrian captial, we encountered similar cases across a much larger region. Their gravity, their increasing frequency and the tactic of using such arms shows that what is being released is not just tear gas, which is used on all fronts, but products of a different class that are far more toxic.

    In the tangled web of the Jobar front, where enemy lines are so close that the fighters exchange insults as often as they kill each other, gas attacks occurred on a regular basis in April. The gas was not diffused over a broad swath of territory but used occasionally in specific locations by government forces to attack the areas of toughest fighting with the encroaching opposition rebels. This sector is the place where Free Syrian Army groups have penetrated most deeply into Damascus. A merciless war is being waged here.

Is Jabhat al-Nusra Breaking Apart?


Aron Lund has a great analysis of a possible break within the organization of Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) / Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); this has huge implications for the future of Syria. Will ISIS face a Sunni awakening like in Iraq, or will they succeed in dominating the Syrian-led Jabhat al-Nusra? Many rank-and-file Nusra fighters are deeply wary of al-Joulani’s declaration/renewal of loyalty to al-Qaeda central, and have every reason to fear a takeover by al Baghdadi’s more violently sectarian faction (Islamic State of Iraq), but are also afraid of open conflict between al-Joulani and al-Baghdadi which will only help the Assad regime (perhaps conclusively).

Will the core of JAN take this opportunity to align themselves with the more mainstream Salafi/Jihadi groups like Ahrar al-Sham? Or does this mean the domination of the Syrian branch with the more established Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda? In the long-term, this may be to the advantage of the Syrian people, but in the shorter term, this will have a degrading effect on the current strategic situation vs. the Assad regime; already we have signs that JAN fighters are withdrawing from Aleppo, presumably to regroup against the dissension in their own ranks. As has been true throughout the revolution, the greatest aid to the Assad regime is the fragmentation and infighting among opposition groups. However, this displays a fundamental difference between the two sides: active debate and “pluralism” (of a sort) have defined the opposition, while the regime responds to any perceived danger of dissension among Alawites by committing acts of provocation and terror against Sunnis (as in Bayda, Banyas), and thereby driving Alawites back into the arms of the regime whether they like it or not.

Syrians love to express their historical “moderation” and openness, and one can see how this would clash with the extremist views of al-Qaeda in Iraq (Islamic State of Iraq). The timing, however, could be better for the opposition, as the regime gains ground in Homs and nearby in Qusayr.

Aron Lund asks, Is Jabhat al-Nusra Breaking Apart?

The background

If you follow Syria, you’re already familiar with the outlines of this, but here’s the very short version:

In a recorded voice statement released online on April 10, 2013, Jabhat al-Nosra’s leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani confirmed that his group had been created with assistance from the Iraqi al-Qaida wing (called the Islamic State of Iraq, ISI). He also ”renewed” his pledge of allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the international al-Qaida leader, leaving little doubt that he had been a sworn al-Qaida member all along. At the same time, Abu Mohammed distanced himself from the suggestion that a total merger had been agreed between Jabhat al-Nosra and the ISI. This was in response to a statement put out on the previous day (April 9) by the ISI emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had said that both groups would now merge into something called the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (let’s abbreviate it ISIS).

200px-Flag_of_Islamic_State_of_Iraq.svgIn sum, there was no dispute between the Syrian and Iraqi leaders about the fact that Jabhat al-Nosra is an al-Qaida faction ultimately loyal to Zawahiri, but they differed on whether it would be absorbed into a regional umbrella (ISIS) constructed from the Iraqi franchise (ISI) or retain its own separate identity within the international al-Qaida framework.

Syrian opposition groups reacted negatively, including the main Islamist formations, although most tempered their criticism by stressing the positive contributions of Jabhat al-Nosra to the uprising so far. For some responses to the Abu Mohammed and Abu Bakr statements by Islamist groups in Syria, see a previous post of mine on Syria Comment, and these translations on Hassan Hassan’s site.

Says Sands

After Abu Mohammed al-Joulani’s strange semi-rebuttal to Abu Bakr on April 10, both groups fell silent, and everybody seemed to be waiting for an explanation. None came. Now, suddenly, several media reports have been published, suggesting that the dispute hasn’t been resolved but is in fact growing worse. In some of these reports, purported Jabhat al-Nosra fighters even talk about the group splitting apart or losing members, although they differ on who is leaving and for what reason.

Phil Sands – who wrote this sadly beautiful last letter from Damascus a couple of months ago – offers one take on these events in The National.

He quotes a Jabhat al-Nosra member from Damascus as saying that ”everyone I know was surprised by the statement; it was more than we’d expected to hear”, meaning the pledge of allegiance to Zawahiri. The Jabhat al-Nosra member now worries that there will be clashes between Jabhat al-Nosra and the Western/Gulf backed factions grouped under the FSA label, after Jabhat al-Nosra came out of the closet as an official al-Qaida franchise.

The gist of Sands’s article is that locally recruited and/or pragmatic fighters are upset with Abu Mohammed al-Joulani’s pledge of allegiance to Zawahiri and al-Qaida, because it will make it harder for them to focus on fighting Assad. (They’re probably right about that.) There’s no claim of an open split in the group, yet, but it does indicate internal tension between locally-minded grassroots fighters and the globalist, Qaida-connected leadership…

More at Syria Comment…

The Destruction of Free Yabroud

The Destruction of Free Yabroud
reposted from


For almost a year now we have been hearing loud cries for a political solution in Syria. The goal, some would have you believe, is to end the conflict in a way that sheds the least amount of blood. It is really a simple premise, the Syrian people’s representatives will meet with the representatives of Assad’s government to come to an agreement that will end the loss of life in Syria and restore peace. While it sound’s great on paper I would like to demonstrate to you why a political solution will never truly materialize despite it’s good intentions. Yabroud, Damascus is a small town North East of Damascus’ city center. During the last two years of revolution Yabroud has remained a bastion of non-violent resistance against the regime. Rallying against the regime and eventually succeeding in freeing themselves from Assad’s militants without shedding blood. The following video will demonstrate how beautifully Yabroud’s people have come together in order to improve their town and their country.

Can you think of a solution any more peaceful than this? Peaceful demonstrations succeeded in ousting Assad from this town and the people followed up by cleaning up their streets, organizing their society, and letting all know that whether you are with the regime or against it, let’s respect one another. Yabroud remained peaceful, free, and flourishing for almost a year until the regime decided they wanted ‘their territory’ back. This is a video from Yabroud today as Assad’s military attacks the peaceful town in order to reclaim it.

Video of ‘carpet-bombing’ style attack on Yabroud, Duma, Damascus (cannot be embedded):


Now I ask you, do you believe a political solution is attainable with Assad?

Thanks Racanarchy blog

Evidence of Torture in Syria’s liberated Raqa

Evidence of Torture in Syria’s liberated Raqa

AFP, Beirut –

Documents and torture equipment found in Syrian security buildings in rebel-held Raqa show detainees were tortured when President Bashar al-Assad’s regime held sway over the city, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

A team of researchers working for HRW toured Raqa in northern Syria in April, a month after the city fell into rebel hands, and found the incriminating evidence, the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

“The documents, prison cells, interrogation rooms, and torture devices we saw in the government’s security facilities are consistent with the torture former detainees have described to us since the beginning of the uprising in Syria,” said HRW deputy Middle East director Nadim Houry.

Among the implements the watchdog said it found is a cross-shaped contraption known as “bsat al-reeh” (flying carpet), which “former detainees have said has been used to immobilize and severely stretch or bend limbs.”

Torturers used the device to “tie a detainee down to a flat board, sometimes in the shape of a cross, so that he is helpless to defend himself,” HRW said, citing former detainees.

“In some cases, former detainees said guards stretched or pulled their limbs or folded the board in half so that their face touched their legs, causing pain and further immobilizing them.”

HRW researcher Lama Fakih told AFP that although the watchdog has interviewed countless former detainees during the two-year conflict, “being inside the facility makes it so much more real.”