Syria's rebels seek arms from its neighbour Lebanon

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Rebel fighters who have retreated out of Homs on the border with Syria
Rebel fighters who have retreated out of Homs on the border with Syria Photo: ITV News

The Sheik is a man of passion and incongruities.

`Planet of the Apes’ blares out from his television’s movie channel as he prepares for evening prayers.

Beneath his robes I catch a glimpse of a pistol in a holster.

And pride of place on his apartment wall is an ancient rifle from the last days of Britain’s middle east empire.

"It’s an Enfield. From 1948. It still shoots,’’ he tells me.

The Sheik , a middle man in the trail of weapons smuggled over the border from his native Lebanon
The Sheik ,a middle man in the trail of weapons smuggled over the border from his native Lebanon Credit: ITV News

The Sheik is a devout Muslim with a God-given mission to help Syria’s rebels, by and large fellow Sunnis.

He is a middle man in the trail of weapons smuggled over the border from his native Lebanon.

On the face of it, he conforms to all the stereotypes that strike fear into the heart of western powers.

But he says he is no extremist.

"You would become a terrorist if you saw your family slaughtered before your eyes. But the Syrian people are moderates. There are no salafi. No Al Qaeda ."

So he arranges the purchase of weapons from dealers in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, and makes sure they get into the hands of the Free Syrian Army.

It’s an expensive business.

On his lap he has a black bin liner full of bullets. He picks one out and holds it front of me.

"Two dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars. Even a hundred dollars. We would pay it," he says.

The Sheik is less forthcoming when I ask him who funds the operation. He says they get money from wealthy Syrian ex-pats.

I ask whether the Gulf states, who have talked about arming the rebels, are helping too.

His voice raised in anger he replies.

"Britain, America, Saudi Arabia. They have washed their hands of Syria.’’

Guns and grenades displayed at an arms dealer's home in Lebanon
There is no shortage of weapons available in Lebanon Credit: ITV News

In Lebanon, there’s no shortage of supply. And the arms dealers are making a killing.

Prices for a AK 47 rifles have doubled since the Syrian uprising began.

We’re driven through a warren of streets in the capital’s southern suburbs to a lock up garage to be shown dozens of guns ready to ship.

This is Hezbollah territory, the Shia militant group, funded by Iran and allied to Assad.

So why should they sell to Assad’s enemy, I ask one of the dealers.

John Ray speaks to an arms dealer in Lebanon
John Ray speaks to an arms dealer in Lebanon Credit: ITV News

"Officially we don’t. It has to go through a Lebanese,’’ is his answer.

"But in Lebanon there are many factions, all supplying guns. It we didn’t sell, then someone else would.’’

On the border with Syria, we are introduced to some fighters who’ve retreated out of Homs.

"We have courage, we have God, but we don’t have the weapons. Armour piercing. That would bring us results,’’ says one, a former sergeant in the regular army who defected many months ago.

Rebel fighters who have retreated out of Homs on the border with Syria
Rebel fighters who have retreated out of Homs on the border with Syria Credit: ITV News

In Beirut, a dealer had pulled from a canvas bag, a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

This is the kind of weapon that is most in demand. The kind of weapon that can stop a tank.

The kind of weapon the Free Syria Army says would turn the tide of battle.

The price tag is, apparently, $6,000. But there’s a problem.

"This we cannot sell at all. Direct orders from Hezbollah,’’ he says.

And not even the Sheik can change that.