AKRUN - Far beyond the brown plain and the shimmering blue waters of Qatinnah Lake, the outlines of a city can just barely be made out. "That’s Homs, that’s where there’s war," says a refugee turning away from the empty window opening.
Then there’s the sound of an explosion at some distance behind him. "And that," he says, "is Al-Qusayr, the city where we come from." Al-Qusayr is just a few kilometers away from the unfinished building where Mashour and the 10 members of his family have found refuge. They are Syrian.
To flee from Syria to northern Lebanon, they had to make their way through the mined border area in the dark of night, at the mercy of the Syrian soldiers they had bribed. And now they are doing the best they can, living in this basic construction – thin mattresses on the floor, not even plastic over the windows to shield them from wind and rain. One of their baby twins has already died; the other one is sick, but they have no money to pay for a doctor.
Mashour, the father, is afraid to tell us his real name. He deserted Bashar al-Assad’s army two months before he was supposed to retire because "I didn’t want to shoot my own people." But his family is by no means safe in this hamlet near the Lebanese border-village of Akrun. A number of fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighting Assad’s forces have also fled here, so all the refugee families in the area’s Sunni villages live in fear of cross-border attacks by Assad’s soldiers.
They also fear Assad’s secret service agents, who routinely cross over to Lebanon. More than once, opponents of the Syrian regime have been abducted and brought back to Damascus. Lebanon, with its tiny army, cannot do much about this.
Shia v. Sunni
Assad also has Lebanese allies, ready to do his dirty work for him. A few kilometers from the Sunni village of Akrun, the Hermel plains are full of Shia villages. "You’re deep in Hezbollah country there. That is off limits for us Sunnis," says Abu Mahmud. This former Lebanese army officer has been helping Sunni Syrian refugees, collecting money to buy food and blankets, finding places for them to stay. "From here, Hezbollah regularly fires rocket-launchers on Al-Qusayr in Syria," he says. Whenever things get particularly tough for Assad’s soldiers there, "the cross-border shooting begins."
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah also sends men to fight in Syria, especially to the border town of Al-Qusayr, he says. "They take their dead and wounded back with them when they return to Lebanon. This happens almost every day."
There have been rumors of Hezbollah fighters fighting alongside Assad’s army for a long time. Militiamen from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are allegedly doing the same.
The Shia Islamic group has acknowledged that it was fighting for Assad, at least indirectly, when it confirmed that a high-ranking commander in its military wing, the Islamic Resistance, had been killed “performing his jihadist duty,” calling him "a martyr in the Holy War."
The Lebanese March 14 opposition alliance, made up of Sunnis who oppose Hezbollah, confirmed that Ali Hussein Nassif, a senior Hezbollah military commander, had been shot by the FSA during an ambush in Al-Qusayr.