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Shiites living next to the Syrian war

Nadezhda Kevorkova
Nadezhda Kevorkova has worked at RT since 2010, before which she was a special correspondent for ‘Novaya gazeta,’ ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta,’ and ‘Gazeta.’ Kevorkova has also worked extensively in Russian mass-media. As a war correspondent, she covered the Arab Spring, military and religious conflicts, and the anti-globalization movement. She has worked as a reporter in Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Cuba, and in the republics of the North Caucasus, Tatarstan, and in the Far East. In 2001, after an invitation from US State Department, Kevorkova visited a number of states, including Alaska. As a correspondent of 'Gazeta' she reported from Indian settlements in the US. She covered the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’ in 2008, 2010 and 2011; she also visited Gaza several times during the blockade. In 2010, Kevorkova was nominated for the ‘International Women of Courage’ award.
Shiites living next to the Syrian war
The Lebanese village of Al-Qasr bordering the Syrian province of Homs has been hit by bombs and mortars of the Syrian insurgents for nine months.

This village is not part of the news reporting on ‘the Syrian army attacks on the Lebanese territory’ and ‘Hezbollah militants getting into Syria’.

I arrived here on a day of celebration. The locals had two reasons to rejoice: a hostage came back from captivity, and five rockets that hit the area in the morning didn’t kill anyone.

It doesn’t feel like war here yet. This is a pleasant area. A huge flock of sheep is dawdling along the road at the entrance to the village. Wherever you look you see fields and gardens. The lake and hills on the horizon are a part of Syria. The border isn’t clearly marked, as the locals have lived here for centuries without any borders. At the moment, most people living in Shia villages on both Syrian and Lebanese sides of the border carry Lebanese passports. The Syrian rebels have been pushing Shiites out.  However the near-border settlements have organized public self-defense committees. The propaganda machine around the Syrian war dubbed them as an expansion of the Hezbollah militants.

Neighbors lined up to congratulate the family. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

Can 7-year-old Nasrallah be considered a Hezbollah militant?

A lorry driver Hassan Kamel Jaffar is sitting on the lawn under a pine tree.  A saline drip if fixed to a branch. About 20 children, old men and women are crowding around him, and as soon as new people arrive –  they start telling the newcomers the details of his release from captivity all over again.

He has a huge family and they all want to pay tribute to their relative. 

Hassan is 45. He was released early in the morning. He looks exhausted, the whites of his eyes are  bloody, a sign that he was beaten or tortured.

One day he was at a quarry on the Lebanese side of the border waiting for his truck to be loaded. As he was about to drive away, he was stopped by two armed men in a Jeep. Later he found out that they were Lebanese Sunnis.

Just to be on the safe side, I asked him: “Are you from Hezbollah?”  Once you see a Hezbollah fighter, you will never confuse them with anyone else.

Hassan gave me a painful smile. No, he’s not a militant, he’s a driver. He’s been a driver for 7 years. If he were a militant, they would have killed him.

Truck driver Hussein Kemel Jafar was held captive 24 days. His eyes are red from the beating and torture. His family is proud that they too had captured five hostages, including the FSA militant. On the right - his youngest son, Nasrallah. If the Syrian war comes to Lebanon, people will be killed just because of their name. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

The kidnappers first asked him whether he was a Sunni or a Shia. He lied that he was a Sunni. They made a phone call and somebody on the line told them that he was a Shia. They started beating him. Then they pushed him into the car and drove for about 90 minutes until they came to a location in Syria. They would take him from house to house and beat him again and again. They said, “We brought a terrorist,”

Hassan said, “Then they said that we, Shias, are worth nothing and that they’re allowed to kill us. They said I deserve to die because I’m a Shia and that they will kill me with their knives.”

The kidnappers gave him a telephone and told him to call his relatives and tell them to collect $1 million in ransom for him. Twelve days later they came to his cell and told them to call his relatives again to let them know that he was alive.

Later a group of militants came and said his relatives must bring money within 4 hours. In the end they began to beat him with a cable.

Five thousand people, including elderly women and infants, visited Jafar to congratulate him for escaping. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

Eventually, they reached an agreement: the kidnappers received a bag of money, made sure that it’s not fake, then gave it to a mediator who brought it from Syria to Lebanon and gave it to the Lebanese army at 4:30 in the morning.

Some think that his relatives collected a ransom for him, but some say that a powerful lady from Lebanon, who, by the way, was a Sunni, payed $140,000 for him.

Jaffar’s family was wasting no time. They captured five Sunnis, one of them, not only Syrian but also a Free Syrian Army rebel. These people were held hostage in his house, and his mother cooked for them. When everything was over these hostages admitted that they were treated properly

People are talking about these kinds of things as if they are absolutely ordinary. They’re outraged only with the fact that their hostage was treated cruelly.

Hassan Jaffar believes that a well-established system of kidnappers and intermediaries has been operating there. While in captivity, he heard of other hostages as well.

He thinks he was abducted by Al-Farouq, the same group that captured Anhar Kochneva. However they don’t call each other by real names. They rather use nicknames such as ‘slippers’ or ‘parsley’.

He has five children. The oldest daughter is 12. The youngest son was born in 2006. They named him Nasrallah.
So if this mutual escalation continues and the 7-year-old gets kidnapped they may as well treat him as a potential

Hezbollah militant, for the sake of his name only, which means “Allah’s victory’.

Rescue From Freedom Rockets

Friends and family are visiting the house of Hajj Nasr Kanaan and greet them on surviving the Syrian rebels rockets. This morning, five rockets were fired at the village, and one of them fell very close to their home.

They sit around in plastic chairs drinking coffee, take pictures and then trade places with new visitors. The family’s children accept congratulations along with the adults and demonstrate time and again the rocket flying, its fragments scraping the house and the garden and leaving the crater, and share their impressions.

Car glass blown out by the blast wave. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

Broken windows of a Mercedes standing in the middle of the front yard is the worst damage of this morning’s attack.

Head of the family, 80-year-old Mohammad Hasan Kanaan says he happened to be standing quite close to the spot the rocket hit. Luckily for him, the tree broke the rocket’s fall, and the rocket hit the ground instead of the stone floor. Otherwise the old man would’ve been killed by shrapnel. But in this case, he was blinded by smoke and dust but remained standing on his feet. And now he is absolutely cheerful and high-spirited.

80 yo Mohhamed Hasan Kenaan and his family who survived the shelling. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

‘Take a look at these people – do they look scared? We’ve been living like this for nine months with these rockets flying over our heads. They keep bombarding our villages’, comments Kanaan Sr.

We hear a loud racket.

‘That’s just the quarry workers doing their job!’ He thinks I would be too scared to hear the truth.

“Alright, and who’s firing?”

“Us. And them.’

Impact marks of the rebel rocket. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

I asked them whether living on the border was too dangerous and whether they thought it was high time to move. No, they believe this land belongs to them, and since the government doesn’t protect them they have the right for self-defense which is exactly what they’ve been doing.

The Lebanese government doesn’t protect anyone, and the Lebanese army is just nominal as they neither carry guns nor intend to fight.

However there’s a real media war going on around these public self-defense committees.

The media that support the Syrian rebels, say all the Shias are Hezbollah militants. From time to time Sunni leaders in Lebanon and Maronite Catholics call on Hezbollah to disarm. In Lebanon, these calls sound ridiculous, because all communities and most men here have weapons. Not counting the army and police.

Mohammad is old, and he has been to Syria many times. A rocket hit his backyard. He says that he was not surprised by this declaration of war on all the Shias. According to Mohammad, there has always been animosity towards the Shias, they were never liked here. 

“And now they say – you have to die,” Mohammad exclaims. Nobody can explain how this “disliking” transformed into war.

All that is left of the shell. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

He is a farmer, just like his many relatives and neighbours. It is not his responsibility to understand big politics.
He lives in a nice 3-storey house with the family of his son, who has 6 children. And he knows that the Almighty, not politics, will save him.

To show the rocket is an honorable mission, so the older family members do it. They bring the fragments out of the house and display them on the ground.

People have different opinions about the distance this rocket traveled – 5, 8 or 12 kilometers. They think that these are launched from mini MLRSs.

That morning they fell near a gas company office, in gardens, at a farm, and near this house. In the evening other rockets broke the roof of the mosque, killed two people, one of whom was a woman, and injured several others.

Children and adults receive congratulations. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

Summer clothes were burnt, too…

I run into a married couple with a child near the office of the gas company, located in the area that was hit by the rocket.

This family has been accommodated in an office – that is how they call depots here, where refugees are taking shelter side by side with gas cylinders.  

He is a Sunni, she is a Shia. His name is Hassan, hers – Umm Abdu, and they have five kids who are Sunnis.  They all have Lebanese passports.

He’s a Sunni, she’s a Shiite, they have 5 children. They were driven out of Syria for their faith, in addition to that they were shot at in the morning. (Photo by Nadezhda Kevorkova)

One would definitely like to come to grips with how such marriages can be workable, given that I have just learnt about this hatred of Sunnis towards Shias. But this Sunni is far from loathing his Shia wife, the mother of his children. The thing is that farmers are no theologians and they don’t come to know the particulars of conflicts: they don’t get it how religion can be involved here, when people kill and rob each other in broad daylight.

“Let them shove off and get back to their fathers, taking their freedom with them.  They are pure bandits”  –Hassan’s wife says.

Farmers are better at describing their hardships, than depicting religious differences. Their house and land were located between the two villages of Sarja and Zaita. It was a year and a half ago when the shelling, and attacks started.

It was followed by armed rebels coming into their house. The family decided not to waste time and wait for the outcome, worrying that the rebels could hurt their kids – especially the girls – so they took the children and moved to Al-Qasr. Later, after they have left, the rebels burnt down their house. 

Five-year old Taha is outraged: his parents hid him in a haystack, and when those people came into the barn, he could hear them talking about what valuables could be kept there.

“They burnt all my winter and summer clothes” – the kid says. 

Today Allah saved their lives again – the rocket didn’t hit the gas cylinders depot, which serves as their home. That is how they see it.

The guerillas have made a short movie of their fighting against the Syrian Army near the Lebanese border. Reportedly they were fighting Hezbollah armed groups. One could see the Syrian tanks on camera, while, as we know, the Hezbollah don’t use tanks at all. Obviously, the video shows an inexperienced group of gunmen and their subversive activities.

Nadezhda Kevorkova, Lebanon

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.