Thursday, 9 February 2012

Wadi Khaled: The Free Syrian Army Base in Lebanon (III)

Part (III): Open Wounds

Neither man knows how he made it to Lebanon, or what routes the FSA took to transport them to hospital. Nor do most of the other patients. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2012
The final part of this Al-Akhbar exclusive looks at the medical support and media networks that compliment the military activity of the Free Syrian Army in Lebanon.

Part (III): Open Wounds

Fierce fighting in the turbulent parts of Syria has claimed many casualties. Many of the injured are treated at field hospitals. The most seriously wounded are taken into Lebanon through the illegal border crossings in the north and the Bekaa Valley. They are then moved to one of three hospitals in the north.
One of these, in Tripoli, specializes in treating injured fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The group has rented out an entire floor of the hospital for that purpose and taken charge of security arrangements there. I was taken to meet some of the patients at this hospital by a Syrian doctor.
The doctor explains that he was originally working as a veterinarian in Saudi Arabia, but came to Lebanon to “volunteer to serve the revolution.” He says a shortage of medical supplies means that operations needed by the patients are often delayed.
In one room, two injured men occupy adjacent beds. One has a bullet wound in the groin. He asks the doctor for an injection of morphine. “Have patience for a bit longer, Muhammad,” comes the reply.
Muhammad inhales deeply on his cigarette. The smoke seems to ease the pain. He says he was injured while “protecting demonstrators against shabiha raids.” He pauses a while and muses: “We have nothing left. Why not offer our lives?”
The man on a bed next to him, who introduces himself as Ahmad, was shot in the heel and leg. “I am a soldier who defected from the Syrian army. I joined the FSA to protect my honor and my family.”
He will not fully recover for months. “But I will not wait. I will take up arms as soon as I get a little better. I’ll hold a crutch in one hand, and the Russian one [the Kalashnikov] in the other,” Ahmad vows. “We were created to die. We will die in God’s Path. We have pledged to the God Almighty that we will fight until martyrdom.”
Neither man knows how he made it to Lebanon, or what routes the FSA took to transport them to hospital. Nor do most of the other patients.

Outside the room stands Khaled, who the doctor describes as the “guardian angel” of some of the wounded men. He was in charge of bringing most of them here.
Khaled says he was a construction worker “before the revolution,” and then joined a group tasked with bringing injured people into Lebanon through the illegal crossings.
“Whenever I cross the border to bring back an injured person, I bid farewell to my wife, because I feel I may not return,” he says. He uses pack animals, motorcycles, and “sometimes our backs” to transport them. He says that tens have died en route.
The safe house
We leave the hospital for one of the FSA’s “safe houses.”
These can be found in various parts of northern Lebanon. Mainly rented accommodations, it is here that FSA soldiers are sent for recuperation after they have been treated in Lebanese hospitals.
Activists who have fled from Syria are also put up in such places. They use them as bases from which to contact the media, issue statements, and give interviews as anonymous “political activists.”
Our destination is a fifth-story apartment in Tripoli. Ten young Syrian men greet us there. Two are still undergoing physiotherapy for their wounds.
One of them says he is a defector from the 18th Armored Brigade. There is also a Syrian physician there, who says he used to work in a field hospital in Homs before coming to Lebanon to oversee the treatment of wounded fighters.
The field hospital can only administer first aid, so people with head or back wounds or serious injuries, who require operations, are brought to Lebanon. “At least two per day,” he says. He adds that Lebanese military intelligence turns a blind eye to these activities in northern Lebanon, and that the local population is highly supportive.
“Electronic soldiers”
There are also soldiers of another kind in the safe house. They describe themselves as the FSA’s “hidden brigade” and as “electronic soldiers.”
One of them, Muhammad, identifies himself as a political activist and a history teacher from Banyas.
He used to contact the media to provide them with images of what was going on in his home city, but was arrested along with his family in a raid by security forces. He says he was tortured before being released ten days later. He stresses that Syria is in the throes of a “patriotic revolution” that cannot be branded as Islamist or sectarian.
The “electronic soldiers” have a massive horde of photographs and video recordings of clashes, dead bodies, and wounded people who they say were victims of the Syrian army. They send clips of them to television channels or upload them onto websites.
In another safe house – this one in Wadi Khaled – a Lebanese man in his thirties, married to a Syrian, introduces himself as the “electronic soldiers’ coordinator.”
His job is to arrange for cameras to be distributed to FSA fighters inside Syria and to process their memory cards when they are sent back.
“I send over the cameras, then recover the USBs containing the images,” he explains. “I put those into the computer, and send them to a television channel to show them to the world.” Some of these have yet to be screened.
He says the fact that he is not Syrian himself is immaterial. “I am Lebanese, but my blood is with the people being killed,” he says. “I am an activist in the Syrian revolution, and I am prepared to recruit all my relatives to serve this revolution. I don’t feel I have done anything yet. I want to do more.”
Nevertheless, he reveals at the end of the conversation: “A lot of the videos that you see on Al-Jazeera and the Internet come from me.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Part (II)
Part (I)

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
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