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Nadine Elali

Tfeil’s crisis partly resolved

Residents remain isolated and in fear of future attacks

A Lebanese security force officer takes details as vehicles of the Lebanese Red Cross lead a convoy of aid towards the village of Tfeil, close to Lebanon

Tfeil’s residents believed their ordeal had come to an end earlier this week, after Lebanese authorities ended the four-month siege imposed by Syrian regime forces and Hezbollah. On Tuesday, Lebanese security forces opened the road to the village, provided residents with aid, and arranged a safe passage for the wounded to evacuate. But residents continue to feel isolated due to the continued absence of state institutions and anticipate future attacks by Syrian regime forces.

 

“I don’t feel safe,” said a local who used the name Ahmad. “I feel as though there’s a plan to raid Tfeil. Lebanese forces did not enter the village on Tuesday, and today there are no forces in or near the village to protect us if Syrian regime forces attack us again.”

 

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Nohad Mashnouq announced a plan to aid residents of the besieged Lebanese border town. In accordance with the plan, Lebanese Armed Forces, Internal Security Forces, General Security, and the Red Cross gathered in Brital’s central square Tuesday morning and headed toward Tfeil, which had been sequestered for almost four months.

 

“We had been waiting for this moment for decades, to finally have a presence of Lebanese state institutions in our village,” said Ahmad. “Residents raised white flags on top of their rooftops and gathered herds of sheep for offering.”

 

Tfeil had been cut off from the rest of the country for months, with the only viable route coming from the village of Rankous in Syria. Mashnouq’s sources at the Ministry of Interior told NOW that because the village is geographically surrounded by Syrian villages where the Syrian army forces are in battle with rebels, such as Hosh al-Arab, Rankous, and Bakhaa, the area is considered a “war zone.” Lebanese forces did not enter the town in order to distance the state from the Syrian conflict.

 

“The Lebanese army, ISF, and General Security took up posts on Lebanese territory at the village outskirts because the village itself is witnessing a spillover of the battles and so forces could not enter it,” he said.

 

Mashnouq told NOW that he reached out to Hezbollah for assistance in relieving the village. Other sources NOW spoke with said that head of the Coordination and Liaison Unit, Wafiq Safa, participated in the meetings after Minister of State Mohammad Fneish confirmed to Mashnouq that Hezbollah had tasked Safa with handling the town of Tfeil.

 

The relief plan was then drawn up to open the blocked road between Brital and Tfeil and to help Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees leave via a safe route. “Hezbollah forces are no longer blocking the only dirt road that was available to us,” said Ahmad. “There is no presence of them in sight, but there is no presence of state forces either to guarantee our safe passage.”

 

Originally, the plan was a hybrid one that would give civilians the right to evacuate or to remain in the village at their own risk. Theoretically, tents were to be set up along the village outskirts – on Lebanese territory – for civilians who wished to evacuate. Local officials told NOW that this plan was executed, but in parts.

 

“We received the aid,” said Ramadan Dekkou, the village mukhtar. “Foodstuff, medicine and gasoline, and some of the wounded civilians were transferred to hospitals in the Baalbek area. But some residents became weary of the security procedures that were being implemented and feared leaving the town.”

 

According to Dekkou, General Security forces set up posts at the entrance to the village, requiring every person to present ID to obtain passes allowing them to commute.  

 

“We are Lebanese,” said Dekkou. “Why are they treating us like we’re foreigners? They said the procedure was for security concerns, but it baffles me why we Lebanese citizens need state approvals to commute in our own land.”

 

Dekkou told NOW that “due to suspicion,” residents and Syrian refugees refused to leave the land. Only 11 of the 32 persons who were originally wounded during Syrian attacks on the village agreed to be transferred to local hospitals, while the rest preferred to be taken care of by a local nurse present in the village.

 

After living without supplies of food, electricity, shelter, or aid for four months, residents of Tfeil are no longer besieged, yet they still lack the necessary provisions that would guarantee their safety. 

 

“We are very thankful for the aid and the attention we received earlier this week, but it was momentary,” said Ahmad. “Aside from there being no more security guarantees, the wounded that had been transferred to hospitals have been left there to deal with their fates on their own.”

 

“The Dar al-Amal Hospital in Baalbek is requesting us to take the wounded back home, four of whom are Syrian refugees, so we have to pay the costs ourselves and provide them with a safe passage back to Tfeil,” said Dekkou.

Crossing to Tfeil. (AFP Photo/STR)

"Lebanese forces did not enter the village on Tuesday, and today there are no forces in or near the village to protect us if Syrian regime forces attack us again.”