Nadine Elali

Tfeil: A Lebanese village under siege

Border town neglected and geographically isolated, say residents

Tfeil, a Lebanese town cut off from the motherland.

Over 4,000 Lebanese citizens and 10,000 Syrian refugees are currently under siege in the border town of Tfeil, living without supplies of food, electricity, shelter, or aid for four months while the Lebanese government and the international community turn a blind eye.


“We are in dire need of help,” Abu Ahmad, a Tfeil resident, told NOW after the village came under fire from Syrian army forces earlier this week. “Dozens of Lebanese civilians have been wounded and homes have been destroyed. Our families are in grave danger,” he said.


According to Abu Ahmad, over 5,000 new Syrian refugees have recently fled from Hosh al-Arab, Rankous, and Bakhaa, where the Syrian army has been seen advancing.


Tfeil, a Lebanese village on the border with Syria, has been cut off from the rest of the country. There is no paved road into the town, the sole dirt road can’t be accessed, and the only viable route is a road from Rankous in Syria. “The Syrian army is preventing Tfeil’s residents from entering Syria, and Hezbollah is preventing them from entering Lebanon,” said Abu Ahmad.


The mufti of Baalbek, Baker Rifaii, expressed his concern about the village’s isolation. In an interview with NOW, he said that Tfeil is being dealt with as though it was a Syrian village rather than a Lebanese one.


“When clashes in Qalamoun erupted, Syrian refugees fled into Tfeil. And for months now, the village has been under siege,” Rifaii said. “I tried to visit the town to carry aid packages of food, household supplies, and medicine. However, it was not possible to reach it because all roads have been blocked,” he said.


Local officials have denied reports that the town harbors armed Syrian rebels and smugglers supplying opposition forces across the border. “A void accusation,” said Ramadan Asaad Dekkou, the town’s mukhtar. “There is no presence of armed men in the town. We have… set up civilian checkpoints along the border carrying Lebanese flags to assure that only civilians enter the village for refuge,” he told NOW.


“We do not have terrorists, nor criminals, nor wanted persons, and if there are any, then let state authorities come forward with the names and we are more than ready to hand them over,” he added.


Though Tfeil is Lebanese by nationality, apart from enrolling some of its young men in state institutions and participating in Lebanese elections, everything else is Syrian. “Our phone network, our electricity, and money are all in Syrian form,” says Dekkou.  


Over the weekend, the NNA reported that Interior and Municipalities Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq will bring up the need to open the road to Tfeil during the cabinet’s upcoming meeting on Tuesday. Sources close to Mashnouq confirmed the NNA report and stressed that he will also work on removing any unofficial checkpoints or armed forces along the roads in the Baalbek-Hermel region.


Besides being geographically isolated from Lebanon, residents claim that the village has also been neglected by the state. “For years politicians would visit us – conveniently before elections – and promise us an official road that will connect us to our mother country, and services that meet our basic rights as citizens,” he said. “To this day, nothing has been fulfilled.”


“We have been waiting for almost half a century for the Lebanese government to live up to its duties,” Dekkou added. “Other than having no road, we also don’t have schools, hospitals, electricity, a municipality, nor do we have Lebanese army and ISF presence to maintain security.”


Tfeil’s residents are accused of supporting Syrian rebels in their fight against regime forces, and for that, they fear that regime forces may enter the village and attack its inhabitants.


“We too have suffered from [the] regime’s brutality,” said a local resident who preferred to remain anonymous for security purposes. “During elections, both under Syrian occupation and after 2005, Syrian intelligence forces would come into the village and threaten us to vote for Hezbollah’s members to parliament or else they will rape our women in front of us,” he told NOW. “We were being oppressed and for that reason, we sympathize with the rebels, but we don’t have anything to do with them.”


The influx of Syrian refugees into Tfeil has increased in the wake of battles in Syria’s Qalamoun region. According to residents, an estimated number of 10,000 refugees are currently living in abandoned houses, as well as in orchards and caves in the surrounding area, all without food or aid.


“We are calling on authorities to lift the siege and to open the roads leading into Lebanon to secure a safe passage for humanitarian aid to relieve families in Tfeil and the Syrian refugees; on the Lebanese state to uphold its duties toward its citizens; and the United Nations to hold up its responsibility toward the thousands of refugees we have taken in,” said Dekkou.  

A forgotten town. (Image courtesy of ugo.cn)

"Though Tfeil is Lebanese by nationality, apart from enrolling some of its young men in state institutions and participating in Lebanese elections, everything else is Syrian."