Lebanese civilians: Arms flow in from Syria

'Post' correspondent speaks to civilians, soldiers on Beirut-Damascus highway.

captured Hiz weapons 298 (photo credit: IDF)
captured Hiz weapons 298
(photo credit: IDF)
Lebanese civilians close to the border with Syria told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that weapons for Hizbullah were being brought in by the truckload at night. Lebanese Army troops on duty at the border refused to confirm the claims. This correspondent watched as a line of trucks and lorries several kilometers long built up at one crossing on the road from Lebanon into Syria. The trucks, en route from Beirut to Damascus, were laden with a mixture of goods: everything from construction materials to fruits and vegetables. But in the late afternoon wintry chill they were stationary; their drivers had disappeared and only the occasional soldier kept guard every few hundred meters.
  • Don't forget Lebanon (Nov. 15 editorial) "They don't move in the day," said Yusuf Saad, a taxi driver waiting at the border crossing. Saad, who had watched this correspondent from the other side of the road for some time before signaling for me to come over, added that "It's much easier for them to drive at night." He nodded toward the distant Syrian mountain range. "There's not so much traffic on the road. And I can tell you" - his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper - "they might be going in with produce, but they're coming out with weapons. They hide the rockets under the goods and that's how they're able to bring them into the country." No one in the Lebanese Army would confirm Saad's observations. The soldiers here don't like journalists, and reporters are warned against taking any photographs or conducting any interviews. But a young officer softened a little as the day wore on Thursday and allowed some filming to take place - but only in the direction of Syria. By then cars had piled up in both directions. A number of trucks drove past, headed for Beirut. "Journalists lie," the officer explained. "During the war they came here and told lies about the border not working. They said there was chaos. But as you can see, everything is completely under control." A 40-minute drive southwards from the border and the Lebanese town of Baalbeck welcomes one with signs in English and Arabic. The narrow streets are a labyrinth of hooting cars and busy alleyways, built alongside ancient Roman temple ruins. Observant Muslim women, covered in long-flowing hijabs, walk alongside pretty girls dressed in the latest fashion. The incongruity, however, exists only on the outside; as one soon finds from talking to the people, if there's one thing everyone here agrees on it's support for Syria - and condemnation of Israel. After a few questions, this correspondent was quickly directed to the office of the local Hizbullah chief. He would not give his name and he would not permit photographing of the building from outside. What he did say, and repeatedly, is that Hizbullah is supported by at least 90 percent of residents here. In apparent confirmation, posters of Hizbullah's leader Hassan Nasrallah cover just about every available outdoor space - from the food and clothing stores to the trees that line the central street. "Syria helps us," this official said, while avoiding answering whether that help includes the supply of weapons. "They looked after our people during the war with Israel and they help now with humanitarian assistance. We owe them a lot." Fifty-three year old electrician Hassan Taha, a strident Hizbullah supporter who lives opposite one of the areas the Israeli Air Force bombed last summer - a crater marks where a school, supermarket and hotel once stood - was emphatic, however. "Of course weapons are coming from the border," he said. "Everybody here knows that. They're coming from both Iran and Syria and also China and Russia. We need the weapons. We are ready now if Israel strikes us. "If Hizbullah did not exist," Taha went on, "Israel would annihilate us. We are very happy with the results of the war. Hizbullah was always the most popular here, but now we're even more popular."