October 17, 2011
Cross-border tank incursions; four Syrian opponents of the Damascus regime kidnapped in Lebanon, supposedly in a vehicle belonging to the Syrian embassy in Beirut; a truckload of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades destined for President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents on the other side of the Lebanese frontier seized by the Lebanese army – not to mention the mass rally in favour of Bashar in Damascus last week, which Syrians arriving in Lebanon say really – really – did count a million people on the streets. Every tragedy has its mystery, I suppose, but this one is taking on Gone With The Wind proportions.
Above that huge mass of Bashar supporters flew Syrian military helicopters carrying massive national flags of Russia and China – Syria’s two friends in the Security Council, who vetoed UN sanctions against the Damascus government last week. It was the perfect antidote to all those YouTube pictures of dead protesters and dying children, not to mention the infamous photograph of a girl allegedly beheaded by the Syrian secret police who turned out – deus ex machinus on Syrian television – to be very much alive and obviously well and even wearing a modest veil. Confusing? At least we now know, from the very lips of Assad’s opposition, that the “armed gangs” that the regime says it is fighting really do exist, albeit that they wear uniforms.
But first, the incursions. After enjoying the benefits of Syria’s 29-year military presence in Lebanon – the army left in 2005 – the Lebanese are a bit sensitive when Bashar’s lads appear near their border, apparently looking for gun-runners of the kind who were driving the truck near Halba last week. And when a Syrian drives a few metres across the frontier and fires a shell into an abandoned battery factory, it all becomes a little more serious. There have been at least three recorded Syrian incursions into Lebanon – a further eight are suspected – and during one of them, near the village of Ensal, a man was killed. He turned out to be a local Syrian resident. The border, needless to say, is notoriously difficult to locate. One R. Fisk even crossed it by accident years ago, but opponents of Lebanon’s Hizballah-inclusive (and thus pro-Syrian) government raged against this supposedly massive incursion upon Lebanese sovereignty.
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