Amateur video of the Syrian refugees captured by a resident of Mkaybleh at the Wadih Khaled border crossing in North Lebanon.
The tall woman in her 40s says she is from Tal Kalakh, a Syrian town three kilometers away from the northern Lebanese border. She tells us to call her Nawal and that she is too scared to disclose her real name. One of the other women carefully closes the door of the bedroom where their relatives in the northern Lebanese village of Mkaybleh have sheltered them, before sitting down on the mattress and sipping from a glass of tea.
“We have to bring down the regime, or else. We’re either dead now or we die later,” Nawal says after faltering for a while. “We started demonstrating a month ago because of the hunger. We’re poor people. We want to have our rights, our freedom. We want them to release our men from prison. We can’t stop [demonstrating] now. If they stay in power, they’re going to kill us all,” she adds.
Nawal and her two daughters are among the Syrians from Tal Kalakh who left their houses and crossed Nahr al-Kabir, the river that separates Akkar in North Lebanon from the district of Homs in Syria. The people started showing up at the small crossing in Wadi Khaled on Thursday morning. Many women and children were in their slippers and carrying blankets, seeking shelter with their Lebanese relatives and friends.
According to Mohammad Ahmad Ahmad, mayor of Mkaybleh, approximately 1,000 Syrians crossed the border and took refuge in Lebanese villages in recent days. He says he is hosting two families in his own house, while every family in the village has taken in 10 to 12 refugees. “The village is overcrowded. We can’t host people anymore. But there are still people coming through the border, and we’re sending them to Tripoli,” he tells us.
Nawal eventually decides to talk about what happened in Tal Kalakh and why they had to flee. Other refugee women gather around her and sip from their tea and puff from a rose-flavored arguileh. “Yesterday they gave us one hour to evacuate the town. They said they were going to raid the town in an hour,” she says.
Tal Kalakh was to be raided by troops from the Forth Brigade, what the Syrians call the “moukhabarat al-jawiyeh” or the “air intelligence agents,” whom the refugee women say are a constant menace to the townspeople. “They always show up in the middle of the night out of nowhere with their helicopters and their tanks. They storm the town, go inside people’s houses at 4 a.m. looking for smuggled guns, although they know nobody would dare smuggle weapons into Syria, and they take the money and the gold,” a young woman bursts out. “They arrested the men in the town, they killed many of them. Half of our cemetery is young men’s graves. They put them in prison, and when they come home they’re not human beings anymore,” she shouts.
Nawal and the young woman say they have many relatives who were taken for alleged weapons smuggling by the Fourth Brigade, which is under the command of Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s brother. “We are Sunnis there, they are all Allawites. The fear is implanted in our hearts,” Nawal says. “I saw once with my own eyes, about a year ago, how they chased a young man, hit him with a rifle and asked him to pick a charge for himself. We never saw him again. His wife went looking for him, and they told her to forget about him.”
A young man comes in and sits with the women. He is Lebanese, but he says he has relatives and friends in Tal Kalakh. “We made a video with all the young men who were killed in Tal Kalakh over the past two years,” he says while playing us a short movie on his mobile phone. “I had a friend whom they hanged. They were looking for his brother for smuggling merchandise over the border, but they couldn’t find him. So they killed his brother instead. Look, this is him.” He shows us footage of a man in his 20s dancing at a party.
“So we took to the streets about a month ago when we heard about Daraa,” he says, referring to the town where the Syrian uprisings started.
“The young men of the town talked about [demonstrating] at the mosque, because there they are only Sunnis, no Allawites to tell on them. They started protesting, asking for their rights and in support of the people in Daraa,” the young woman next to Nawal says. She adds that since Monday their town has been under attack by snipers. “We had to sit on the floors with the lights off so they wouldn’t see us. They were shooting at us like we were pigeons! To them we are not humans.”
Most of the men in town refused to leave; they sent their wives and children to Lebanon on Thursday while they stayed behind for what they called the “Friday of blood.” Two of the women refugees tried calling their brothers in Tal Kalakh several times after the Friday prayer, but their calls did not get through.
They have no idea what the police’s response was to the demonstrations, but at least nine people were killed Friday in the district of Homs.