Lebanon Revolt Closes Last Window of Respite for Syrians
Abou Mohammed was deprived of celebrating his son’s return from Europe to Syria after a 15-year absence due to the eruption of massive anti-government protests in neighboring Lebanon.
Mohammed had booked a ticket to Beirut and his father was set to welcome him at Rafik Hairiri International Airport before escorting him to Damascus. This was on the eve of October 17, the day the protests broke out and spread across Lebanon.
Instead of heading to Beirut, Abou Mohammed remained glued in front of his television screen to witness the unprecedented demonstrations.
Roads throughout the country were blocked and taxi services in Syria were warning against travel there.
Abou Mohammed is just one of many Syrians who had turned to Lebanon during eight years of war to circumvent the blockade and sanctions imposed against his country. The sanctions have barred travel and bank transfers.
Lebanon remained the only outlet for them and the only country to not shut its border with Syria.
Residents of Damascus and its suburbs often sought refuge in Lebanon during intense fighting. Other Syrians turned to Lebanon in search of medicine, gas, fuel and other daily needs after they had run out in their own country.
When the protests broke out, head of the chamber of commerce in the Damascus countryside and notorious warlord, Wassim al-Qattan, urged Syrians to withdraw their money from Lebanese banks. He warned that the banking system in Lebanon was on the verge of collapse.
The majority of Syrians now live in fear over what may transpire in Lebanon as the government has yet to comply with the protesters’ demands.
Fayza, a Damascus resident, said that she had finally obtained a visa to travel to France after four failed attempts. She now has the opportunity to join her daughters, who have sought refuge in Europe since 2013.
With the protests, she says her plans are up in the air.
She is concerned about traveling to Lebanon. “I don’t know what is in store for me in Beirut. Will I be able to reach the embassy or not? I pray day and night for God to protect Lebanon. If anything bad happens to it, then Syria may also be affected.”
Taxi services in Damascus are following the developments in Lebanon around the clock. They release updates about the roads and release warnings about travel along the Beirut-Damascus highway.
Taxi fares from Damascus to Beirut have increased by 80 percent because drivers are being forced to take the long way to reach their destination due to the closure of roads. The normal fare is usually 100 dollars. With the protests, the figure could reach 200 dollars.
Syrian airlines have benefited from the difficult road travel by increasing the number of flights to and from Beirut at the cost of a taxi fare.