Driven by national security, political appeasement, and a dire need for greater foreign aid, Lebanon’s government is looking to rein in and ultimately control the Syrian refugee population through a new series of stringent visa regulations.1 On December 31, 2014, Lebanon’s General Security Directorate announced the latest rule change. Previously, a Syrian national could receive a six-month renewable visa free of charge upon entry into Lebanon. The new six visa classes—tourist, business, student, transit, short stay, or medical—represent Lebanon’s attempt to exert control over the world’s second-largest refugee population and account for unregistered Syrians.Read More
Tucked away in the rocky hills that divide Lebanon and Syria, a gunman ordered Makhoul Mrad out of his truck.
Despite his age — getting up toward 70 — and his infirm heart, Mrad was a quarry worker and regularly made the long trip with a handful of men from his village to this quarry, the farthest-flung site his employer owned. Out here, it’s remote. Exposed. That morning, he was swiping dust off his dashboard when a silhouette in his doorway startled him.
“Get out of the truck and get on the ground,” instructed a bearded man, dressed in an ankle-length thawb and pointing an automatic rifle.Read More
As the Islamic State massacred its way throughout Iraq and Syria this summer, a separate battle took place in neighboring Lebanon.
This summer, the Islamic State invaded the Lebanese border town of Arsal, beheading captured soldiers and unleashing waves of lethal car bombs, destabilizing the country.
Hezbollah, one of the world's strongest guerrilla armies, has also become involved — either defending Lebanon, or making things worse, depending on who you ask.
VICE News traveled to Lebanon to explore the battle being waged by one of the world's fiercest militant groups against one of the Middle East's smallest and most fragile nations.Read More
In a dimly lit office in the heart of Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, a man in his 40s with slicked back hair and intense eyes sat behind a desk and watched a television set playing an American action movie with Arabic subtitles. The door’s office slid open and another younger man walked in. “That Bazzi guy was shot!” he said excitedly. The movie-watching man’s gaze didn’t stray from the television as he answered back, “eh.”
“Who did it?” the second man exclaimed. Breaking the television’s hypnosis over him, the man glared at his curious neighbor.
He answered with one word, uttered with what appeared an intense disgust: “Dawaesh,” he said using the Arabic word for members of Daesh, or ISIS.Read More
In the dark of night a group of around 10 armed men donning military fatigues and carrying Kalashnikovs gathered at a house near the edge of Ras Baalbek, close to where Islamist militants have tried to infiltrate the town on a few occasions.
“We have welcomed many Syrian refugees and I believe they are like our family,” said Rifaat Nasrallah, the group’s leader. “However, some are using the refugee status to enter Lebanon and in reality they are members of terrorist groups.”Read More
In early August, about two months after Khaled Mahmoud al-Hajj left his hometown of Tripoli to join ISIS, he called his brother from Iraq. It was the last time they ever spoke.
“I tried to stop him,” said Mohammad, 25, the eldest of the Hajj brothers.
But it didn’t work, and on Aug. 7, Khaled blew himself up in a suicide attack in the Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad. He was just 18 years old.Read More
The morning of June 8, 5-year-old Mohammad al-Khawli picked up the LL1,500 his father had left on the table to get cigarettes for his mother and ice cream for himself. He never came home.
When his father went looking for him, he found his son’s body in a dumpster after having been raped, strangled and stabbed to death.
The murderer, a 16-year-old Lebanese with the initials N.A., was quickly apprehended by security forces after his own father turned him in. According to his family, N.A. was on drugs when he committed the crimes, but that has only added to the whirlwind of speculation over his motive.Read More
Parading around the derelict salon of this decrepit house, Polat, not old enough to know the life his ancestors lived, bangs his family’s gold drum with gusto. His father Ali watches and, despite guarding his emotions, lets slip a smile.
A few years ago, a distinct music and dance emanated from the streets of Sulukule in Istanbul, once Europe’s oldest continuous settlement for 3,500 of Ali’s people, the Romanies. But now, the echoes of Romany culture have been silenced as well-to-do refugees from neighbouring Syria have filled the wood-panelled duplexes built atop the paved-over ruins of the historic Romany settlement.
A family from Homs sits in the small backyard of one of the houses. They are unregistered refugees. “We came here because we knew people in the area,” says the matriarch, a middle-aged lady in modest attire. The family pay 1,100 Turkish lira (Dh1,949) each month in rent to their Turkish landlord. “The neighbours are fine,” she adds. “They don’t speak Arabic and we don’t speak their language so we just nod at each other.”Read More
At 1 p.m. on this sunny Thursday afternoon, Tripoli fishermen Ibrahim Shehade and Ishaac Sidawi should be out at sea. Instead, they sit forlornly watching cars pass by on the Mina sea road.
There is no work for them on the water, something they blame on the recent boom of rapidly spawning and lethal puffer fish – neffaykh in Arabic – in the sea their families have trawled for generations.
“There’s a war going on in Tripoli, both at land and at sea,” says Sidawi, 27, despondently.Read More
Long before Syria's civil war broke out, the Lebanese border town of Arsal was known as a hub of smuggling activity. The surrounding mountainous terrain is perfect for sneaking contraband of all sorts between Lebanon and neighboring Syria — and that's why Arsal has become a focal point for Lebanese security agencies, Hezbollah, refugees, foreign jihadists, Syrian opposition fighters, and the Syrian regime.
This week, Syrian warplanes fired missiles at the outskirts of the town shortly before the Nusra Front launched grenades into Arsal from across the border in Syria. Arsal is the lone Sunni Muslim village in Lebanon’s predominately Shiite Bekaa Valley, and the local population of about 35,000 is sympathetic to opposition forces fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad — a combination that makes it a target several times over.
A man I meet named Abu Hussein is perched on a couch in his modest apartment in central Arsal, sitting on his feet while smoking a cigarette. Four of his brothers are currently in Yabroud, just across the border, fighting against Syrian forces with the Farouk Brigades. Hussein isn't avoiding the conflict, however — he's busy smuggling fighters in and out of Syria.Read More
Highly personal profiles of a mother, an artist, and a soldier throw into sharp relief the depth of the losses endured by the nearly three million Syrians forced into other countries since 2011. A short and intimate account that drives home the human scale of this crisis.Read More
Christian villages on the Lebanese border with Syria are increasing security, both militarily and on the civilian level, following death threats by a local municipality figure and reports of al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups lurking in the mountains nearby.
“Civilians are forming patrols to protect the borders in places like al-Qaa and Ras Baalbek,” said a source in the Defense Ministry that chose to remain anonymous, as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. “What they are doing is in coordination with the local municipality and the governor of the Bekaa, so it’s half-legal, let’s say.”Read More
A little over three months ago in the village of Ghabagheb in Syria’s southern municipality of Dara’a, a two man hit team from the Free Syrian Army awaited the arrival of an important Syrian Arab Army figure. One of the FSA soldiers, a 24-year-old defected SAA soldier from Dara’a named Sultan, had been tipped off by a contact still enlisted in the army battling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The pair waited but the man never came. Instead, a mini bus arrived and seven SAA soldiers emerged. Realizing they had been betrayed, Sultan’s comrade fled, leaving Sultan face-to-face with the enemy combatants. Time slowed down as Sultan was overcome by melancholy. As he stared at his foes a thought crept into his conscious: “Am I going to die here, in this place?” Despite being filled with fear at the notion of an unavoidable demise Sultan felt no regrets. Both sides opened fire.Read More
Hassan is only 30 years old, though like most people who have lived through war, he looks much older. Sitting next to his father, a few neighbors, and the landlord of the room he rents at a former school in Lebanon, he beams as he describes the elation he felt upon reuniting with his family last month after he fled his home in Nahriyeh, near Qusair, Syria, and the gratitude he has for his landlord's unremitting hospitality.
As Hassan's story comes to a close, he politely excuses himself to check on the children playing outside. Once outside, the diminutive man slyly looks over his right shoulder before lighting a cigarette.
"My dad doesn't know I smoke," he says in between drags. But Hassan didn't leave the room simply to get out of his father's line of sight. He left to escape the earshot of another guest.Read More
The artillery strikes and street fights that forced Badr Abbas to abandon his home near Damascus haven’t shaken his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The one you know is better than the one you don’t, and no one will come that is better than” Assad, said Abbas, a Shiite Muslim who worked as a drywall installer in Syria until he fled for Lebanon eight months ago with his wife and two children.
As the two-year-old conflict grinds on, with more than 70,000 killed in the fighting, Syrians who support Assad say he provided them with security and stability. They also see him as a representative of secularism and worry that the armed opposition is becoming dominated by Sunni extremists.Read More
Khaled Naaman doesn't hide his disdain for the Syrian government, a widely shared sentiment in this northern Lebanese city, where many harbor dark memories of Damascus' years of military occupation.
His impoverished neighborhood, Bab Tabbaneh, stands as a bastion of support for Syrian rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad; their tricolor banner flutters from buildings and is spray-painted on walls. The district has also welcomed multitudes of refugees seeking to escape the Syrian conflict.
But now after almost two years of a steady influx of displaced Syrians, Naaman and other Lebanese citizens in Bab Tabbaneh are growing weary. Many blame the newcomers for shrinking wages and job opportunities and increasing rents and prices for groceries, car repairs and necessities.Read More
The scent of wood hangs in the air of Nazih Ghadban’s workshop in the Beqaa village of Ras Baalbek. Unfinished ouds line the walls. On the left side of the room hang wooden shells, just an outline of what they are to become. The objects on the right side of the room are closer to the finished product, their colors and designs more visible.
"The climate of Ras Baalbek has made the trade a tradition here," divulges Ghadban, adding that it is a little known secret that Ras Baalbek's dry climate and lack of rain is beneficial for oud making. The oud, a traditional instrument of the Mediterranean, has eleven strings, grouped into five sets of two, with one lone string. It has a large, round back in the shape of a gourd and a flat face, with a short, curved back neck. Ghadban says the oud goes back to the sixth grandson of Adam. There is evidence of the oud from over 5000 years ago in what is now Iraq. Somewhere along the way, the oud found its way to Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
Ghadban is just one of a handful of prestigious ‘moa’limeen’ (or masters) of oud production who hail from Ras Baalbek. While there are other noteworthy oud-makers from this Lebanese village, Ghadban cites a prominent man of Greek origin, along with oud-master Nikoula Hares, as his sources of inspiration. According to multiple sources from the village, the now-deceased Hares was famous in the Middle East for being the best oud maker in the region.Read More
It’s past 1 am on a chilly night in Tripoli. Ali, a bulky man in his 30s with a well-groomed beard, shaved above his upper lip in the Salafist style, sits on a bench beneath the apartment building of a prominent Tripolitan politician, where he works as a night watchman.
“I used to take pills [for fun] but I stopped. Now I take them for my medical condition,” he says. Ali has anger issues that get him into fights.
Other people, he says, mix the pills with alcohol. “One or one and a half with some alcohol is all it takes to mess you up. Five or six will make you fall down or lose consciousness.”Read More
The front pages have been dominated for more than a year by photos of young Syrian rebel fighters, armed and proud, battling an increasingly isolated Syrian military.
But amid the shooting, the atrocities and the bombings, there is a parallel war — a sophisticated cyber insurgency battling a shadowy team working on behalf of the Assad regime. The Syrians’ online conflict may be the most active cyberwar in recent memory, with extraordinary efforts by both sides to sabotage, disrupt and destroy. It may even foreshadow the way cyber battles will play out in future conflicts.
On the one side, the Syrian government has been using cyber tools to track activists and expose opposition figures. An online group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army appears to be acting as the Assad regime’s surrogates.Read More