TIME Lebanon

Lebanon’s Hash Farmers Join the Fight Against ISIS

Hash dealer Ali Nasri Shamas holds up a machete he promises to use on jihadis.
Rebecca Collard Hash dealer Ali Nasri Shamas holds up a machete he promises to use on jihadis.

The military once battled hash farmers, now they face the same threat

Inside his hash factory in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Ali Nasri Shamas pulls out a two-foot long machete.

“This is for ISIS and the Nusra Front and anyone who supports them,” says Shamas, referring to the jihadi groups encroaching on Lebanon’s border. He smiles, running the blade of his knife gently along the sleeve of his leather jacket before cutting the air with it. “We have the machetes ready for them, just like they do.”

Shamas’s factory is just 30 minutes from the Syrian border and he says he and his fellow hash growers are ready to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front who have taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq are threatening to invade Lebanon.

Three tons of cannabis sits on the floor inside his processing plant. Workers sift through the ten-foot high heaps, separating stalks and stems amid a cloud of cannabis dust.

Lebanese Red and Blonde hash varieties are world-renowned, and Lebanon’s hash farmers have long been well-armed to defend their crops from government destruction.

Each year security forces come to this village, and others in the Bekaa Valley, to try to destroy the lucrative fields of marijuana. These raids often end in gun fights, leaving members of both sides dead and injured.

“The last time they came here was 2012,” says Shamas. He’s has been a fugitive for 35 years, but now he is not scared to be photographed with the illicit drugs.

Since the start of Syria’s uprising in 2011, Lebanon has worried about the conflict spilling across its borders. Both ISIS and the Nursa Front have kidnapped and executed Lebanese soldiers and police. The militants have infiltrated fighters and explosives through the shared border with Syria and into Lebanon.

While drugs were once a priority for the Lebanese government, defending the border against incursions from Syria is now paramount.

“I don’t want to say the government is afraid of the [drug dealers], but now they have other priorities…it’s not a suitable time to make a problem with the people in the Bekaa Valley,” says General Ghassan Chamseddine, head of Lebanon’s drug enforcement unit.

Hash factory worker in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, shakes cannabis dust from a bag.
Rebecca CollardHash factory worker in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, shakes cannabis dust from a bag.

There are around 9,000 acres of Lebanese agricultural land used to grow cannabis, producing thousands of tons of hash annually, about half of which is exported. Chamseddine says his police require the support of 2,000-3,000 army troops to eradicate the crops each year. Right now, those soldiers can’t be spared. “Our army is working hard now to defend our border.”

That means that Lebanese security forces who once confronted Bekaa Valley drug cultivators now have a shared interest with them in defending border regions from attacks from Syria.

“We are ready to support all the factions in Lebanon against ISIS and the Nusra Front,” says Shamas.

When jihadis attacked the village of Brital in October of last year, a band of cannabis farmers headed to the area to help defend it. Abbas, who asked not to use his real name, was among them.

“When we heard they were attacking Brital, we grabbed our weapons and jumped in the trucks,” says Abbas, who spent seven years in prison on drug trafficking charges. “To us, ISIS is nothing. Their strategy is to scare people. But we were not afraid.”

Abbas, Shamas and most of the men involved in Lebanon’s hash trade are experienced fighters, having been militiamen in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. Abbas once fought with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful militia, and Shamas with Amal, another large Shiite group.

There is a Hezbollah base just a few hundred meters from the hash factory, but these men say unlike Lebanon’s many well-armed militias, they aren’t aligned with any sect or political party.

General Chamseddine is irritated by the suggestion that these men are defenders of the country.

“When they say they have these arms to defend their country against ISIS, they are making a camouflage to get support from the people,” says Chamseddine. “These drug dealers are only interested in their drugs.”

In part, it’s still about defending their crops. ISIS has posted videos online of their fighters destroying marijuana fields in Syria, saying the consumption of the plant is un-Islamic. But even more importantly, say the farmers here, this is about defending their land and their country against the expansionist ISIS militants.

Shamas pulls one of two AK-47s from his truck, admiring the assault rifle. This is just part of his arsenal that includes mounted machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

“We are here to defend all of Lebanon,” says Shamas.

TIME Middle East

Hezbollah Faces Hard Choices Between Fighting Israel, Sunnis

Mideast Lebanon Hezbollah Israel
Bilal Hussein—AP Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, during his funeral procession in southern Beirut on Jan. 19, 2015

Hezbollah sent thousands of its members into Syria and Iraq and helped Shi'ite rebels win in Yemen

(BEIRUT) — Hezbollah’s ambitions are spreading far beyond its Lebanon home as the militant Shiite movement appears increasingly bent on taking on Sunni foes across the Middle East. It has sent thousands of its fighters into Syria and senior military advisers to Iraq, helped Shiite rebels rise to power in Yemen and threatened Bahrain over its abuse of the Shiite majority.

But the regional aspirations also are taking a heavy toll and threatening to undermine Hezbollah’s support at home. The group has suffered significant casualties, there is talk of becoming overstretched, and judging by the events of recent days, even a vague sense that the appetite for fighting the Israelis is waning.

In the recent confrontation, Israel struck first, purportedly destroying a Hezbollah unit near the front line of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Among the seven dead on Jan. 18 were an Iranian general, a top Hezbollah commander and the son of another former commander in chief. A heavy Hezbollah retaliation appeared inevitable.

Yet when it came last Wednesday, Hezbollah’s revenge was relatively modest: two Israeli soldiers dead, seven wounded. The choice of location — a disputed piece of land excluded from a U.N. resolution that ended the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel — suggested to some that Hezbollah’s mind remains focused on more distant fronts.

The Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, seemed to allude to criticism that Hezbollah’s taste for foreign adventurism is weakening its appetite for fighting Israel. In his speech Friday, Nasrallah said Israel had incorrectly thought that “Hezbollah is busy, confused, weak and drained. … The resistance is in full health, readiness, awareness, professionalism and courage.”

It is part of a complex equation for Hezbollah: On the one hand, many Lebanese resent the group for embroiling their vulnerable country in ruinous wars with Israel. But on the other, all shades of Muslim opinion see the Jewish state as a common enemy that Hezbollah forced, in 2000, to end an 18-year occupation in south Lebanon. In that sense even Sunnis, who along with Christians and Shiites make a third of the country’s population each, could see Hezbollah as a protector.

But that was then. Today, many increasingly look to Sunni-majority powers as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as their true backers.

“Increasingly, Hezbollah’s leadership perceives itself as a Shiite Arab regional actor, placing its commitment to the Palestinian cause on par with its mission as a defender of Shiite political and religious rights in the Arab region,” said Randa Slim, a director at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “The consequence for Lebanon is that at some point the Shiite underpinnings of Hezbollah’s regional role will clash with the interests and demands of its non-Shiite, mainly Sunni compatriots.”

Hezbollah has room to grow as a leading defender of Shiites. But when Nasrallah has tried to make aggressive political proclamations, the results sometimes have backfired.

On Jan. 9, Nasrallah harshly criticized Bahrain over its crackdown on a Shiite-led uprising and its arrest of a leading Shiite cleric, Ali Salman. He compared Bahrain to his archenemy Israel, saying it was naturalizing foreigners to make the Persian Gulf island increasingly less Shiite.

Nasrallah then issued a veiled threat to Bahrain, although he said protests should remain peaceful. “Weapons can be sent to the most secure countries. Fighters and gunmen can enter and small groups can sabotage a country,” he said.

Hostile reaction swept the Arab world and Lebanon, where even some Shiites complained that threatening Bahrain could spur oil-rich Gulf nations to expel Lebanese Shiites from their soil. The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council called Nasrallah’s comments “hostile and irresponsible.” The 22-nation Arab League accused him of meddling in Bahrain.

Hezbollah’s largest and most visible commitment is in Syria, where thousands of Hezbollah members are fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces against predominantly Sunni rebels.

When Hezbollah first sent fighters to Syria in late 2012, Nasrallah said their role was to defend Shiite holy shrines near the capital, Damascus. Their role expanded to the defense of predominantly Shiite Lebanese residents of Syrian villages. The group now says its main reason to be in Syria is to prevent Sunni extremists from moving into Lebanon.

Hardly a week passes without Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV airing funerals for fighters slain in Syria. Last year, a Hezbollah commander, Ibrahim Mohammed al-Haj, was killed while on a “jihadi mission” in Iraq.

Hezbollah positions in Lebanon also face repeated attacks mostly by an al-Qaida-linked group, the Nusra Front, based on the Syrian side of the border. Their wave of bombings since late 2013 have killed and wounded scores of people, and obliged Hezbollah to employ stiff security countermeasures, including the deployment of plainclothes Hezbollah members around the clock in Shiite business districts south of Beirut.

In Yemen, security officials say Hezbollah, which has long had a presence, has dispatched increasing number of cadres to the impoverished country since Shiite Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, in September and later the airport.

The officials said before the takeover of the capital, Hezbollah had military and security advisers based in the Houthi’s stronghold of Saada province near the Saudi border, where the group’s leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, is based.

Analyst Rami Khouri recently wrote in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper that all the adventurism has come at a political price.

“Hezbollah was widely acclaimed in much of Lebanon and the region for leading the battle to liberate south Lebanon from Israeli occupation,” he wrote. “Today, the very polarized Lebanese see the party either as the nation’s savior and protector — or as a dangerous Iranian Trojan horse.”

TIME Behind the Photos

The Best Pictures of the Week: Jan. 23 – Jan. 30

From Kurdish fighters recapturing the ISIS held town of Kobani, Syria to the deadly attacks on Israeli forces by Hezbollah militants on the Israel-Lebanon border and life returns to normal with Ebola cases down to single digits in Liberia to blizzard Juno hitting the U.S. East Coast, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Israel

Israel-Lebanon Border Calm Day After Escalation

Mideast Lebanon Israel
Mohammed Zaatari—AP Spanish U.N. peacekeepers in an armored vehicle, patrol the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the southern village of Abbasiyeh, Lebanon, on Jan. 28, 2015

Israel remains on alert

(SHEAR YASHUV, Israel) — The Israeli-Lebanese border is calm but Israel remains on alert a day after the deadliest escalation since the two sides’ 2006 war.

The Lebanese National News Agency says Israeli warplanes were flying low over border villages on Thursday.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon says the military is “ready for any development” and warned against further attacks.

Wednesday’s flare-up started when the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group fired a salvo of anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military convoy in a disputed border area, killing two soldiers and wounding seven. The attack was in retaliation for a deadly Israeli airstrike on Hezbollah fighters inside neighboring Syria earlier this month.

Israel responded to the missiles with shelling. A Spanish peacekeeper with the U.N. force in southern Lebanon was also killed.

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Releases New Audio Message by Japanese Hostage

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Sajida al-Rishawi
AP An undated photograph of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, left, and a still image from video, right, of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people

The deadline has been extended

(BEIRUT) — ISIS released a message late Wednesday purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for Jordan’s release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida.

The audio was released as Jordan had offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to ISIS in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with Goto.

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, or Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

On Wednesday, the pilot’s father met with Jordan’s king who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. However, meeting ISIS’s demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom’s hardline approach to the extremists.

Efforts to release al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming ISIS would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the al-Qaida-linked prisoner was not freed.

The scope of a possible swap and of ISIS’s demands also remained unclear.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Al-Momani made no mention of Goto.

Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with ISIS militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

The release of al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts said.

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

The pilot’s family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.

Several dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah’s palace in Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.

“Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home,” the protesters chanted.

The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.

“The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine,” al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.

Earlier, he criticized the government’s handling of the crisis.

“I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations,” he told The Associated Press. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages.

In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an exchange is being arranged. Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her involvement in the al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Please save Kenji’s life,” Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.

“Kenji has only a little time left,” she said in a plea read to reporters. Ishido said both Abe and Japan’s main government spokesman had declined to meet with her.

Abe on Thursday did not make any direct reference to the latest video but reiterated his condemnation of the ISIS hostage-taking.

“The heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” he said in Parliament in response to a ruling party lawmaker’s question.

Later, a few dozen people gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence, holding banners expressing hopes for Goto’s release. “I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me,” said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Goto.

The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Muath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

ISIS broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

TIME Lebanon

Israeli Infiltration Suggests Hizballah Is Having a Mid-Life Crisis

Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags and stand next to a portrait which shows their slain top commander Imad Mughniyeh, as they attend a rally to commemorate Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.
Hussein Malla—AP Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags and stand next to a portrait which shows their slain top commander Imad Mughniyeh, as they attend a rally to commemorate Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.

The Party of God was set up to fight Israel but is now a large organisation with a massive budget

For five years, Hizballah has vowed in fiery speeches to exact revenge for Israel’s assassination of its top military strategist in 2010. Each anniversary passed with Hizballah’s threatened attacks mysteriously foiled: operatives rolled up in Bangkok and Cyprus, and another mastermind murdered near his home in Beirut.

A recent revelation suggests the failure wasn’t so mysterious after all: a Hezbollah official responsible for the revenge attacks might have been on Israel’s payroll the whole time.

The unmasking of the Israeli spy in Hizballah’s uppermost ranks — leaked in media reports in December and indirectly confirmed over the weekend by Hizballah’s deputy leader — points to Hizballah’s biggest long-term problem: its size, wealth and power have made it vulnerable to infiltration, corruption and careerists.

The militant organization, whose name means Party of God, was founded in 1982 to resist the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon but it has grown into an entrenched and wealthy part of the Lebanese establishment. Now in its fourth decade, Hizballah has more power than its founders could have dreamed.

But no longer a compact revolutionary movement, Hizballah must now grapple with the consequences of growth and longevity. Some supporters now take Hizballah for granted while the party’s swelling ranks of cadres and fighters contain opportunists and careerists.

Hizballah has become a state in all but name. It deploys troops to fight in a foreign war in Syria, it is a power-broker in Lebanon’s national government and it struggles to satisfy constituents who have grown accustomed to a higher, and safer, standard of living. It is subject to the same temptations and vulnerabilities as Arab governments and other legacy actors in the Middle East. The intelligence war with Israel marks just one particularly colorful and acute sign of its approaching middle age.

Hizballah began to suspect it was compromised after a series of inexplicable setbacks, including the capture of two of its agents following a bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria in 2012. In order to track down the mole, Hizballah fed false information to one of its officials, Mohammed Shawraba, about weapons shipments in Syria. Israel bombed the false target and after a seven-month investigation, Hizballah arrested Shawraba.

The double agent might have foiled as many as five planned retaliations by Hizballah, according to reports that also tied him to the two most damaging Israeli strikes against Hizballah since the 2006 war: the assassinations of military strategist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008 and of Hizballah technology mastermind Hassan Laqees in Beirut at the end of 2013.

Yet it’s the parade of related cases that have piled up since the last major conflict between Israel and Hizballah in 2006 that suggest something broader is afoot. Hizballah revealed in 2011 that it caught some of its operatives cooperating with the CIA, meeting at a Pizza Hut on the edge of south Beirut to sell Hizballah secrets to the Americans.

A trusted car dealer in southern Lebanon sold senior Hizballah officials cars that had Israeli GPS trackers in them. He was arrested by the party in 2009.

Another Lebanese man was revealed to have worked as a spy for the Israelis, monitoring traffic on key roads to the Syrian border.

A financial scandal erupted at the same period, in 2009, when a Ponzi scheme collapsed and erased the savings of many of Hizballah’s middle-class constituents. The scheme was run by Salah Ezzedine, a well-connected businessman (nicknamed Hizballah’s Bernie Madoff) who had persuaded senior Hizballah officials to invest their money with him, and who had founded a publishing house named after party leader Nasrallah’s son. Ezzedine lost between $700 million and $1 billion, according to news reports at the time.

A final straw came in 2012 when a senior Hizballah official who had been embezzling money fled to Israel. Reports suggest he was stealing for his own benefit, pure and simple, but when he was about to get caught he fled to Hizballah’s greatest enemy with his money and party documents.

All these cases point in one direction: toward more corruption and more Israeli infiltration.

Hizballah’s initial appeal in the 1980s and 1990s was its incorruptibility and zeal. In a country dominated by kleptocratic warlords, Hizballah stood out in its first two decades as an organization whose leaders did not care to enrich themselves. Their first priority was to expel the occupying Israelis. Their second was to help their suffering constituents, most of them Shia Muslims displaced by the civil war and crowded into miserable slums on the edges of Beirut. In those first decades, Hizballah brought sewers, electricity and clean water to south Beirut, and its leaders lived simply.

Today, things are different. At the very top, Nasrallah lives in hiding, and by all reports remains committed to the group’s humble ethic. But the organization he runs is awash in money. After the 2006 war, Iran flooded Hizballah with millions of dollars to rebuild homes and roads. Since 2011 there’s been yet another burst of spending linked to the war in Syria. Over the objections of many Lebanese — and the grumbling of some supporters who thought Hezbollah should maintain its focus on Israel — Hizballah dispatched troops to fight on the regime’s side in the Syrian civil war. At first the deployment was kept secret, but today Hizballah openly sends troops and celebrates its members martyred in Syria. The organization has dramatically increased its spending on fighters and their families and has expanded the size of its military force in order to maintain a deterrent against Israel while fighting in Syria. Hizballah has become a standing army capable of fighting a war on two fronts where it was once a guerrilla army. That’s an expensive development and not one that necessarily carries the same appeal as Hizballah did when it was fighting a war of resistance on its home territory against a much stronger Israeli occupation force.

Today, it appears, there are Hizballah insiders willing to sell crucial secrets to the enemy. There are others who seem happy to siphon money out of the Party of God’s pockets for their own enrichment, just like operatives in all the rest of Lebanon’s notoriously corrupt factions.

In comments over the weekend to Hizballah’s “Nour” radio station, the party’s number-two, Naim Qassem, said that Hizballah was made up of fallible humans but was able to contain the “limited” fallout of the spy cases.

“Hizballah has worked intensely on battling espionage among its ranks and in its entourage. Some cases surfaced, and they are very limited cases,” he said. “There is no party in the world as big and sophisticated as Hizballah that was able to stand with the same steadfastness.”

That makes sense as spin, and Hizballah can obviously survive — the question is, with how much damage.

Until the 2006 war, Hizballah successfully stood apart in Lebanon. It was a Shia organization, but it opposed sectarianism. Even those who didn’t share Hizballah’s dedication to fighting Israel recognized that the militant group placed that goal over its own power and enrichment.

In its rise to power, however, Hizballah has relied on support from some of Lebanon’s most corrupt factions, including the Shia Amal Movement and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement.

Today, Hizballah is a party of the establishment, deeply invested in a Lebanese order that depends on patronage and sectarian balancing. It is unlikely that corruption and spy scandals will unseat Hizballah from its dominant position in Lebanon. But Hizballah’s descent from the moral high ground it claims as unimpeachable standard-bearer of the Lebanese resistance seems only a matter of time.

Thanassis Cambanis is a fellow at The Century Foundation and the author of Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story. He also wrote A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel.

TIME Lebanon

Syrian Refugees Must Now Apply for a Visa Before Crossing into Lebanon

Syrians wanting to cross into Lebanon must now apply for a visa at the border

Lebanon will begin from Monday to impose visa restrictions on Syrians in an attempt to stem the huge influx of refugees into the country.

According to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), 1.15 million Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, increasing the country’s population by 25%, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Syrian refugees have found work as unskilled laborers in the domestic, agriculture or construction industries. But the competition for jobs with their Lebanese counterparts has created tensions between the two communities.

Previously, Syrians and Lebanese could travel between the two countries largely unrestricted. Now, Syrians wanting to cross into Lebanon must apply for a visa at the border and those wanting to work will have to be sponsored by a Lebanese person or company.

[WJS]

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
Pierre Albouy—Reuters U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Lebanon

DNA Tests Confirm Lebanon Is Holding ISIS Leader’s Child

A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
Reuters A man purported to be the reclusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The woman also detained is believed to be al-Baghdadi's ex-wife

DNA tests have confirmed that the child held by Lebanese authorities is the daughter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told domestic television channel MTV that the child’s mother is believed to have married to al-Baghdadi six years ago for a period of three months, the BBC reports.

The Iraqi government had said she was not married to the Islamist leader.

The woman, identified as Saja al-Dulaimi, tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago accompanied by two sons and a daughter when she was detained by border guards.

Machnouk claims al-Dulaimi is pregnant but the child is not al-Baghdadi’s.

“We conducted DNA tests on her and the daughter, which showed she was the mother of the girl, and that the girl is [al-Baghdadi’s] daughter, based on DNA from Baghdadi from Iraq,” Machnouk told MTV.

Machnouk said the children were staying at a care center while al-Dulaimi was being interrogated.

[BBC]

TIME Lebanon

The ISIS Leader’s Wife May Not Have Been Arrested After All

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
AP This file image made from video posted on a militant website Saturday, July 5, 2014, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.

Some say the woman has no relation to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The identity of Saja al-Dulaimi, the purported wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is being disputed.

The woman tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago, accompanied by a 4-year-old boy. She was arrested in a coordinated operation involving agencies from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, an unidentified intelligence source told CNN.

Her detention was widely reported, but different sources now claim that the woman is actually al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife, or a powerful figure within ISIS, or even unrelated.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry says that al-Baghdadi’s wives are called Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal Al-Qaisi and that the detained woman is neither of these.

The Lebanese authorities have made no official comment, and the CIA has not responded to claims that it was involved in the capture. ISIS members on social media deny that al-Baghdadi’s wife has been arrested.

Read more at CNN

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