Syria Rebels Lick their Wounds in Arsal

إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية W460

Young Syrian rebel commander Mohammed limps from an injury suffered in "insane" army shelling of his native Qalamun region as he tells of his perilous evacuation across the border into Lebanon.

Mohammed, who gave only one name, is being treated in the small border town of Arsal, which has turned into a refuge for more than 100,000 Syrians fleeing the war in their country and a makeshift rehabilitation center for scores of wounded fighters.

Like most of Syria's rebels, Arsal's residents are Sunni Muslim and they are sympathetic to the three-year revolt against President Bashar Assad.

Arsal too has suffered violence, including Syrian air strikes, incidents pitting the Lebanese army against Syrian extremists, and on Saturday a car bomb that killed three soldiers.

For now, Mohammed's hopes of returning to his own town of Yabrud have been shattered, as the Syrian army and Hizbullah consolidate their control over much of the Qalamun mountains.

During the last days of the battle for Yabrud, "there was insane shelling. Twelve men died around me, only one other man survived," said the 26-year-old.

"I was taken to Arsal for treatment because the field hospital in Yabrud was not equipped to help me."

The journey from Qalamun to Arsal, along a dangerous mountain road, was hell.

"They drove me here under cover of night for two hours, with the headlights off and a (Syrian air force) helicopter hovering above us," he said, adding that he was in "immense pain" all the way.

Rights groups say the air force shells the mountain routes taken by people fleeing Qalamun, killing rebels and civilians alike.

"Then, when I heard Yabrud had fallen, I cried for two days," he said, as he walked slowly clutching his black prayer beads, his dark eyes glowing as he pointed at a rocky hill separating Lebanon from Syria.

"Yabrud is my town, where I have always lived, where my family and friends lived," added Mohammed, a former marketplace vendor-turned-rebel in the uprising against Assad.

Because of their geographic proximity, Arsal has long-running trade and family links with Qalamun.

Arsal's population sympathizes with Syria's revolt, and the town has become a haven of sorts for refugees, including scores of wounded fighters in need of life-saving treatment.

Qassem al-Zein, a Syrian doctor who heads the medical effort for refugees, said Arsal was open to wounded people from the whole of Qalamun.

But the staff at two field clinics in a small border town simply cannot cope.

In one of the clinics, 23-year-old rebel Marwan shares a room with three other men, as Zein helps him gain strength in his injured, emaciated right leg, after he lost his left leg in army shelling.

The room is bare, with only a black coal heater to stave off the winter chill.

"God willing, you will learn to walk again with a prosthetic limb," Zein told Marwan.

- Lack of treatment deadly -

"Here we have 20 beds" for the wounded, said Zein, who once headed the national hospital in Syria's Qusayr, also a onetime rebel bastion that fell last year to Syrian army and Hizbullah control.

At the time, Zein helped evacuate "hundreds of wounded people" to Arsal.

The flow of wounded again shot up during this year's Qalamun fighting, "with up to 60 one day during the battle for Yabrud" earlier in March, he said.

Lacking a CT scan machine and other specialised equipment, "there is very little we can do for people with head or nerve injuries," Zein told Agence France Presse.

"In recent weeks, eight people have died because we could not transfer them in time" to other hospitals in Lebanon, Zein said.

Transferring any wounded from Arsal to other parts of Lebanon requires coordination with the authorities through the national Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

While the Red Cross has no facility in Arsal, its volunteers helped transfer around 10 people who had been wounded in Yabrud, ICRC spokesperson Samar al-Qadi said.

"Any war wounded has the right to get the treatment he or she needs," she told AFP.

But with the Syrian army and Hizbullah on the offensive in Qalamun, and with their weekend takeover of the border towns of Flita and Ras al-Maarra, evacuations to Arsal have become more difficult than ever.

Zein said 11 wounded people arrived on Saturday, though he feared many others were trapped in Qalamun.

"The routes out... are being bombed," he sighed.

Mohammed, the Yabrud rebel, agreed: "It will be very hard for wounded people to make that journey here now, if not impossible."

Comments 11
Default-user-icon teacher (Guest) 31 March 2014, 13:46

Maybe Hezbollah have to pull out from Syria but syrians fighters and lebanese sunnits extremists fighting in Syria must pull themselves out from Lebanon and get killed there as well. Right Gaga the fool?

Thumb cityboy 31 March 2014, 14:35

that is because that he is not the real cedre. I wish though that this cedar didnt take the copy cat route as many of the m14 do.

Thumb .mowaten. 31 March 2014, 15:20

fake cedre, reported.

Thumb Mystic 31 March 2014, 15:45

The American kid Tony Montana talks about who did what? The Civil War happend before Hezbollah was created.

Thumb Mystic 31 March 2014, 15:46

Its Americand like you. That bears the fault of all death and destruction in the world.

Thumb Bandoul 31 March 2014, 20:52

@Mystic, you sound like a standup and moral person with strong convictions. Please send my country, the United States of America, a strong message of your disapproval and dismay by immediately boycotting, McDonalds, Coca-Cola , Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, Hardee's, TGI Friday's, and Levi Strauss. Also immediately stop accepting any US currency sent by relatives. This second and not a minute sooner, recall any and all family members residing in the USA back to Lebanon, including having them return/surrender permanently their US passports to the State Department or Green Cards to INS. In addition, throw any technology, media or books made in the USA currently in you house. Never ever go see a Hollywood movie again or purchase an Apple product, iPhone, iPad etc. This will teach us a lesson and let us know for sure how much you hate us. God bless you and keep you.

Default-user-icon allon (Guest) 31 March 2014, 20:58

So when you stone women to death in Iran and Afghanistan for whispering too loudly and seductively, really thats my fault? My dear mystic, I actually do have guilt issues, but mate, seriously, you're killing me - I can't take that burden!

Thumb -phoenix1 31 March 2014, 16:41

Arsal is just a microcosm of what's so wrong with Lebanon. Add it to the many other wrongs and we now have the very formula that will implode this country to total chaos.

Thumb cedre 31 March 2014, 17:18

coz the other parts of bekaa are ok...

Thumb cityboy 31 March 2014, 18:14

cedre, did phoenix say the rest of the bekaa was perfect? He clearly stated that there are many other wrongs in Lebanon besides Arsal. I, however, don't agree with him about Lebanon imploding anytime soon despite the formula he refers to. I wish phoenix would look at it in different way, we have an army stronger than ever before backed by a national resistance which is working hand in hand with the army to defend the nation from external and internal threats. It is this formula which makes me confident in that Lebanon will survive and be able to get through the current troubles without the total chaos phoenix refers to.

Default-user-icon allon (Guest) 31 March 2014, 20:53

Funny Hidler said the same thing - Jews are the source of all our problems. Not surprising that the grand mufti of Jerusalem was a close ally of Hidler.