SIDON, Lebanon: Lebanese Customs early Tuesday morning raided several shops in the Sidon suburb of al-Hasbeh in search of fruits and vegetables smuggled from Syria, causing commotion among shop owners who attempted to block Customs personnel from entering.
Customs officials found that at least seven shops were selling produce purchased from merchants in Bekaa and Tripoli that had allegedly been smuggled from Syria.
When the shop owners refused to let Customs confiscate their goods, Customs officers called for the Lebanese Army to intervene. However, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri deescalated the situation, dispatching head of the Sidon Merchants Association Ali Sharif to sort out the problem.
An agreement was reached to calm the shop owners.
A quantity of apples and tomatoes bearing a “Product of al-Sham” sticker was eventually seized.
While the shop owners will not be prosecuted, an investigation has been launched into the source of the stock and its entry into Lebanon.
“We are with the rule of law and with the Lebanese state, but why concentrate on combating smuggling in Sidon, which is very far from smuggling outlets?" asked Ismael Hebli, one of al-Hasbeh’s vegetable sellers. “Anyone who wants to combat smuggling should go to the Lebanon-Syria border.”
Mohammad Moussa, another trader, said, “Bringing vegetables from Syria is a must since the prices of vegetables in Lebanon rise during the winter months.” However, he drew the line at smuggling apples from abroad, which he said was criminal because “our apples adorn Lebanon.”