By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
BEIRUT, Lebanon – At least one person was killed and two other wounded during a raid by the Lebanese army at refugee camps near the country’s border with Syria on September 25th. The Lebanese army says it was searching for Syrian militants at the camps. The military says soldiers patrolling camp located outside the town of Arsal opened fire on men who they say were trying to set fire to tents at a neighboring camp, a statement said. Local residents disputed the military’s official version of events alleging abuse by military personnel. However, army spokesman dismissed the allegations as “lies,” adding: “Our troops act in accordance with international standards of humanitarian treatment.”
By the time the raid ended hundreds of males, including children as young as 13, had been rounded up and taken away for questioning by the military. According to the Lebanese army, the Arsal raids resulted in the arrest of 22 Syrian men suspected of involvement in attacks against the military – bringing the total number of Syrians detained in similar military raids over the past two weeks to an estimated 450. Dozens more were reportedly freed after interrogation.
“The situation was very bad,” said Kasem al-Zein, a former field doctor for the Free Syrian Army who now runs a hospital in the border-town of Arsal. “The refugees think the raids are unjust because they haven’t done anything wrong.” al-Zein said he treated several patients suffering from smoke inhalation and a young girl with third-degree burns on her leg.
Among those detained and later released after the raids conducted last Thursday’ was Syrian refugee Sleiman Khaled, who claimed he was blindfolded, beaten and interrogated by Lebanese soldiers at an unknown location. “They took all the men randomly,” he said. “When we got there they asked for our IDs, and those who had them on hand were separated from those who didn’t. They didn’t tell us why [we were being detained], only that they suspected we were cooperating with ISIS and Nusra.”
Arsal is the first stop for many civilians fleeing war-torn Syria. However, what was once a site of refugee has become a frontline for the tensions between the Lebanese population and incoming refugees as well as the ongoing tensions between supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Syrian rebel groups. Arsal’s local refugee camps have been badly damaged by the ongoing fighting, prompting refugees to seek shelter in the town itself. Last month, Arsal was the scene of deadly clashes killed dozens and rebels captured a group of Lebanese soldiers.
Human Rights Watch reports that the Lebanese authorities failing to take adequate steps to prevent and to prosecute increasing violence by Lebanese citizens against Syrian Refugees following last month’s outbreak of clashes in Arsalbetween the Lebanese Army and extremist groups the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front. According to Human Rights Watch, The attacks against Syrians, most of them refugees, are being carried out in “a climate of official indifference and discrimination, with the violence appearing in some cases to be attempts to expel Syrians from specific neighborhoods or to enforce curfews.”
“Lebanon’s security forces should protect everyone on Lebanese soil, not turn a blind eye to vigilante groups who are terrorizing refugees,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The security forces have a duty to protect all persons in Lebanon, whatever their nationality.”
Human Rights Watch documented 11 violent attacks in August and September against unarmed Syrians or those perceived to be Syrian by Lebanese citizens, including attacks with guns and knives. In at least four of these instances, witnesses reported that the attacks took place in full view of Lebanese security forces, who did not intervene.
For more information please see:
Human Rights Watch – Lebanon: Rising Violence Targets Syrian Refugees – 30 September 2014
Al Jazeera – Lebanon Refugee-Camp Raids Fuel Resentment – 28September 2014
BBC News – Lebanese Army Raids Syrian Refugee Camps in Arsal – 25 September 2014
Reuters – After Border Town Attack, Syrians’ Welcome in Lebanon Wears Even Thinner – 24 September 2014