The Syrian Army has ordered the evacuation of a whole village in order to take over the rebel held town of Yabroud, NGO’s and agencies prepare for a big influx of Syrian refugees in Arsal so I decide to follow a team who will distribute food vouchers to the newcomers….
The cars jam up, stopped by the checkpoint on the way out from Arsal. All NGO personnel has been summed to evacuated the town and we are now being blocked with no further information on the sinuous road leading down to the Bekaa valley. I realize, while most of the cars passing are marked with logo’s from various NGO’s that the town is packed of aid personnel. All there to attend to the needs of the endless influx of Syrian refugees overflowing in the municipality. A booby-trapped vehicle, a car packed with around a hundred Kilograms of explosive was seized on the main Arsal-Labweh road and its occupants (three women) were arrested by the Lebanese army. One more car will be found the same day in Beirut. An hour later when the silver Kia is disarmed, we are allowed to go out of the town and we decide to head to Zahle fearing rising tensions in the rest of valley. We will go back the next day if the situation calms down.
Heavy artillery fire and intensified air raids in the town of Yabroud just on the other side of Lebanon’s northeastern borders have been raging for the past day’s. Since the beginning of the week (Feb 10) around 600 Syrian refugee families and unaccompanied children, have fled to Arsal. Many more are expected, sources state that most of the refugees are still blocked before the border of Lebanon. The offensive on the Qalamoun region was launched by the Syrian regime in mid November causing around 15000 families to take shelter in the town of Arsal. After a short pause during the month of December and January, the government troops backed up by Hezbollah fighters are now back fighting on Yabroud, one of the major cities in Qalamoun and one of the last rebel controlled towns in the region. The fighting is now so close to the Lebanese border town that a distinct thud, resonating the air strikes in Syria can now be heard from time to time.
As we drive through the town the sight of small influx is quite obvious. Even though that NGO personnel fear that the worst is yet to come. Families sit on the side of the main road leading to Syria, most of the tents in the already existing camps have no room to host new arrivers. So refugees sit with good’s distributed by associations and charities while others build shelters that will cover some of them. The constructions won’t be ready by nightfall. The ones who posses a vehicle will take their chances in the Bekaa valley but they will have to pass military checkpoints on severe alert with yesterday’s discovery of rigged cars.