Monday, June 18, 2012

Syrians in Lebanon under threat

Hassan is a Syrian living in Dahiyeh who runs a retail shop. Ever since the kidnapping of a busload of Lebanese pilgrims in Syria on May 22, Hassan says he is being threatened and intimidated into paying extortion money to men he described as “the thugs of Dahiyeh” in retribution for the pilgrims’ disappearance in his home country.

“These thugs would stand in front of our shops, fire in the air, scream and call us dogs, and then force us to close down our stores,” Hassan said. “We have no choice other than to abide. What else can we do?”

Many Syrians living in Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon say they have been subjected to threats and intimidation following the pilgrims’ abduction, and while many of these incidents go unreported, they have prompted some Syrian workers to leave the area they live in or leave the country altogether.

On the same day of the kidnapping, over 100 Syrian workers who lived in Hezbollah areas in Lebanon were beaten up, according to Ahmad, a Syrian who refused to disclose his real name for fear of being attacked.

“My friend told me they would call out, ‘There’s a Syrian!’ and they would then follow them and beat them up. Some fled after being beaten, and others were beaten so badly that they were carried to the Rasoul al-Aazam Hospital, where they were put under Hezbollah surveillance so that news would not spread.”

Abu Mohammad, who also preferred not to go by his real name, said that he was attacked in his own shop and was being followed by two Lebanese men. He spoke to NOW over the phone for fear of being followed to the interview.

“A woman came into my shop, asking me to prepare a proper dish for her, not like the one I prepare for us Syrians. After I declined, saying that I make only one dish, she called in two men who beat me up and trashed my shop. Then suddenly there were 10 of them. My brother came in to help me, but they stabbed him. Ever since then, I have two men watching me,” Abu Mohammad said.

His brother returned to Syria as a result and says he feels safer in opposition-controlled areas of the country than here in Lebanon.

According to Lebanese analyst and commentator Ali al-Amine, some of the attacks on Syrians were a reaction to the abduction of the pilgrims, but others were organized by Hezbollah, which used the kidnapping as a pretext to get Syrians out of party strongholds.

Amine says that over 800 Syrian workers were kicked out of villages in South Lebanon. Near the Lebanese University in Hadath, he said, store owners were asked to leave and were attacked and fired upon by Hezbollah members, who accused them of storing arms for the Syrian opposition.

According to a report released last week by LBC television, 7,000 Syrian workers left Lebanon since May.

An opposition Syrian National Council member who is based in Lebanon and also preferred to remain anonymous said that he had no data to support LBC’s report but that he was aware that many Syrians were subjected to attacks on a daily basis. “They are afraid,” he said, “and that is why they are not coming forward with their complaints, and so incidents like these are going largely unnoticed.”

The SNC member added that the Lebanese government has failed to provide any form of protection for the Syrians, whether workers, refugees or anti-regime activists.

“We Syrian activists came to Lebanon to flee the violence in Syria, and we’re currently being threatened and are under attack, especially following the kidnapping incident. I myself have received a call from an Internal Security Forces officer prompting me and other Syrian activists to leave West Beirut and to move to Achrafieh out of fear of what’s to come,” he said.

“I believe that Hezbollah’s calculations are changing,” Amine said. “They are worried that the crisis might spill into Lebanon and that an Sunni-Shia conflict might break out, and thus they are taking their precautions by lessening the Syrian presence in their stronghold out of fear that they may be used for such purposes. There are over 200,000 Syrians living in areas like South Lebanon, Baalbek and Dahiyeh, and that is a considerable number.”

Now Lebanon

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