TRIPOLI/BEIRUT: A blockade of the town of Tall Kalakh by Syrian forces stunted the flow of Syrian refugees through the Lebanese border crossing Monday, driving many to enter the country through alternative routes, security sources said.
The Lebanese sources said that pro-government forces were surrounding the Syrian town of Tall Kalakh and the northern side of Nahr al-Kabir – the waterway that separates the two neighboring countries – to prevent residents from escaping into Lebanon.
“The influx today is very low because [the Syrian Army] has surrounded Tall Kalakh,” Mayor Khodr al-Hajje of Amayer village said, adding that both the Syrian and Lebanese armies intensified security along the border.
The number of Syrian refugees that have crossed into Lebanon has risen to over 5,000 so far, officials told The Daily Star. The number of refugees shot up over the weekend, following the crackdown on Tall Kalakh, located 45 kilometers west of Homs with a population of approximately 60,000.
As part of Lebanese Army measures to beef up its presence along the border, several checkpoints were erected and patrols were conducted to prevent illegal entry and exit.
“The army leadership warns of any attempts to destabilize the area or jeopardize the lives of citizens on both sides, affirming that it will take severe legal measures against violators,” the Lebanese Army said in a statement.
While officials said the border crossing between Lebanon and Syria had ground to a halt, Syrians fleeing unrest in their home country were making their way into Lebanon through a connecting river of Nahr al-Kabir.
Akkar MP Moeen al-Merebi told The Daily Star that the village of Debbiyeh in Wadi Khaled was still witnessing an influx of refugees crossing via Nahr al-Kabir.
“The town of Debbiyeh has received 100 Syrian families since this morning,” Merebi said.
He also praised Wadi Khaled residents for hosting Syrian families in their homes, stressing on the need to provide the refugees with food and health-care.
Protests in Syria have been taking place since March 15 as demonstrators demand reform in the tightly controlled Arab state.
Syrian refugees have been crossing into Lebanon since April when Syrian authorities began a violent crackdown on protesters it described as being part of a conspiracy against the regime.
A Syrian soldier and a Syrian woman died Sunday after they were evacuated to hospitals in north Lebanon for treatment.
Five other people, including a Lebanese Army soldier and another Syrian soldier, were wounded as fighting raged in the village of Tall Kalakh on the Syrian side of the border, the source said. The fighting resulted from the crackdown by Syrian security forces on anti-regime protesters in Tall Kalakh.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Salim Sayegh visited the north Sunday and said he would oversee the distribution of aid to Syrians who fled into the country.
“As part of our social and humanitarian duties as social affairs minister and members of the Higher Relief Committee, aid has begun flowing into the Wadi Khaled-Akkar area to assist families coming from Syrian territories,” Sayegh told reporters after an inspection tour of Wadi Khaled.
“There are some humanitarian problems at the crossings. Some [refugees] arrived after having suffered wounds. There are families, women and children. This is a social, humanitarian and health process which we have to follow up.”
Sayegh acted a day after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri instructed authorities to coordinate in the assistance of refugees from Syria.
Hariri gave special instructions to the Higher Relief Committee to take the necessary measures and coordinate with the International Committee of the Red Cross and other parties if necessary, in order to help the Syrian refugees.