A soldier takes his family to safety before he returns to action.
IN A school in a small mountain village near the Syrian border, now home to seven families of Syrian refugees, Abdel Hakim Abdullah is preparing to fight.
Four days ago he smuggled his family from the besieged Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amro in Syria to the relative safety of Wadi Khaled, in Lebanon's far north-west.
The 23-year-old defected from the Syrian army in June and joined the Free Syrian Army. He was due to cross back into Syria and reunite with his rebel battalion yesterday.
''When my commander asked me to fire on civilians outside a mosque in Damascus, I could no longer stay in the official army,'' he says.
He acknowledges there is little the rebel soldiers can do against the might of President Bashar al-Assad's forces. They are mostly armed with Kalashnikovs, while the official army is using heavy weapons and tank fire against its people.
''For the moment all we can do is protect our towns as best we can and try to keep the civilian demonstrators safe - without a buffer zone and other weapons we cannot do more than that.
''Syria is in a very critical situation - there are injured everywhere, there is so much bombing, buildings are demolished and people are lying hurt on the streets because it is not safe to go and retrieve them.''
Huddled around a small heater with his mother, his little brother and sister, his young wife, cradling their toddler, is prepared for the struggle ahead.
''Of course I am afraid for him, but at the same time if my husband and others do not go to fight, who will liberate Syria?'' she says.
Mr Abdullah says there are now about 40,000 soldiers in the Free Syrian Army, supported occasionally by collaborators from within the official army not yet prepared to desert.
''When we need to evacuate wounded from an area, they will sometimes tell us when it is safe to go,'' he says.
In a worrying sign, there were reports indicating the Syrian army had begun distributing gas masks to its soldiers, he says, leading civilians to fear not just the bombardment from tank shells and mortar fire, but chemical weapons as well.
Crossing the border into Syria, just a couple of kilometres away, is always fraught with danger. The FSA has cleared more than 200 landmines laid by the Syrian army and they monitor the soldiers' actions closely, but safe passage is never guaranteed.
''We always cross at night, in the mist,'' he says. ''That way it is harder for them to detect us.''
It is hard not to wonder how long his luck will hold out.
Mr Abdullah is prepared to show his face to the world - he says Syrian officials know who he is and there is no point hiding any more. Others remain in deep cover.
Winding higher up in the mountains through driving winter rain and sleet, passing through village after village, The Age is taken to visit several families of Syrian refugees living in the back of half-built houses, too frightened to turn on a light in case it reveals their presence.
They say there has been a spate of kidnappings in the area - Lebanese forces taking fighters from the Free Syrian Army and delivering them to Syrian intelligence services. There are also reports of the Syrian army entering the area to snatch deserters and take them back into Syria. Most are not heard from again.
The effects on Lebanon do not end at the border. Clashes between Sunnis - co-religionists of Syria's majority - and Alawites, who belong to the same sect as Dr Assad, have rocked Lebanon's second city of Tripoli, where three were killed and 23 wounded in fighting that began on Friday. The Lebanese army has entered the Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite Jebel Mohsen districts of the city in a bid to restore calm.
In Syria, as the bombardment of Homs enters its seventh day and the toll of dead and injured climbs, more and more refugees are making the dangerous crossing into Lebanon.
Radwan Mahli's family was threatened with torture and death when he publicly renounced his membership of the ruling Baath Party. ''They burnt my work, my shop, then they torched my house, and later they kidnapped my brother,'' he says.
He fled with his family to Lebanon several months ago. They now live in a room at the back of a small shop high up in the mountains.
His 40-year-old brother, Walid Ahmed Mahli, did not live to make the journey - last week his throat was slit by pro-Assad forces as punishment for leaving the party.
His other sisters and brother are still in Syria, in a town surrounded by the Syrian army. He says there is no hope of escape at the moment.