When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Enjoy unlimited access to quality journalism.

Limited time offer

Get your 30-day free trial!
Is Lebanon's Hezbollah Doing Assad's Dirty Work In Syria?
Tomas Avenarius

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.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

China

How China's Mass Protest Took The World By Surprise — And Where It Will End

China is facing its biggest political protests in decades as frustration grows with its harsh Zero-COVID strategy. However, the real reasons for the protests run much deeper. Could it be the starting point for a new civic movement?

Photo of police during protests in China against covid-19 restrictions

Security measures during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions

Changren Zheng

In just one weekend, protests spread across China. A fire in an apartment block in Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang region killed 10, with many blaming lockdown rules for the deaths. Anti-lockdown demonstrations spread to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu and other cities. University students from more than half of China's provinces organized various protests against COVID restrictions.

Why and how did the movement spread so rapidly?

At the core, protesters are unhappy with President Xi Jinping's three-year-long Zero-COVID strategy that has meant mass testing, harsh lockdowns, and digital tracking. Yet, the general belief about the Chinese people was that they lacked the awareness and experience for mass political action. Even though discontent had been growing about the Zero-COVID strategy, no one expected these protests.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest