Lebanon turns to apps to avoid growing violence linked to Syria

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As violence linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria increasingly slips over the border, the Lebanese have come up with a novel way of coping: advance-warning apps.

Smartphone applications that map gun battles and differentiate between fireworks and gunfire, offer paths around roadblocks and even contact the army in the event of kidnap are becoming a must-have for Lebanese commuters.

"In other places in the world, the only thing that might obstruct your path is traffic," said Mohammad Taha, an entrepreneur behind one of the products. "In Lebanon there are many things that can happen."

(Read more: Arab states urge international action against Syrian government)

Since the Syria crisis erupted more than two years ago, its volatile neighbor has seen a rapid increase in gunfights, kidnappings and, in recent weeks, car bombs. The specter of US strikes on Syria has left the country more than usually on edge with fears that the Lebanese group Hizbollah, which backs the Syrian regime, might launch a retaliatory attack against Israel.

For most Lebanese, who lived through a devastating civil war between 1975 and 1990, the crescendo of security incidents is something to navigate rather than flee.

"We've had a lot of practice: the civil war was not just a couple of years," said art teacher Joumana Bou Khaled.

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Mr Taha last year launched Ma2too3a, a crowd-sourced app that takes real-time information from its users about protests, traffic, roadblocks and clashes, and then feeds it into a map. It has since been downloaded more than 80,000 times.

"The usage of our product is directly dependent on the political situation," said Mr Taha.

Firas Wazneh, an entrepreneur, is seeking to develop a product that will respond to a specific kind of security incident: gunfire.

Often, as after a politician's speech at Friday prayers, the sound of shooting will break out in Beirut and residents will try to reach each other by phone and Twitter to work out where it is and what is happening.

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The idea of Mr Wazneh's app, "Way to Safety", is that users can record gunfire and send it to the site, which will identify the weapon from a sound database and triangulate recordings to pinpoint the exact location and type of fighting.

Particularly useful for nerve-frayed residents of a country where manic partying often overlaps with political violence, Way to Safety aims to allow users to distinguish between the sounds of fireworks and ballistics.

Last week the Lebanese army joined the rush, launching an app that allows users to report and receive updates on security incidents.

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Declaring that the security situation warranted the introduction of a "direct communication channel with the citizens", it launched its "LAF Shield" app.

Among the services it offers is putting kidnap victims directly in touch with military command, which is intended to address an increase in kidnappings in the country. Last month two Turkish Airlines employees were snatched on the airport road, causing international alarm.

The LAF Shield app will be available on IOS and Android systems, according to an army press release.