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Refugees fleeing Arsal express fear and loathing of militants

Lebanese citizens in the back of a pickup truck flee Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

FAKIHA, Lebanon: Mohammad had just finished a phone call with his brother, a commando in the Lebanese Army fighting in Arsal. A brief lull in the fighting, while a cease-fire plan was being contemplated, took hold.

His commando brother had been fighting since the night before. Another brother was trapped in the town, unable to leave.

The father fled Arsal Saturday as soon as news broke of clashes between the Army and militants, immediately driving out of the town. Mohammad fled the next day at 3 pm. Both now stood in the mixed Sunni-Christian town of Fakiha, just a few kilometers from Arsal, where some displaced families from Arsal sought refuge.

Mohammad, who asked that his full name not be revealed for fear of reprisals, said he had seen the militants roaming the streets of the town, firing and hiding between houses, an allegation that corroborated accusations of using civilians in the town as human shields.

“I don’t think 1 percent of Arsalis are with them,” he said. “Who did they harm and kill?”

“I don’t want them to kill my brother,” he added. “Everyone hates them now.”

Mohammad said other families who fled the town had mostly gone to homes of relatives or friends in other cities, including Beirut and Sidon. He recalled fearful children the first night of clashes.

“Children would wake up and we’d just tell them, son, go to sleep,” he said. “You can’t do anything else.”

Mohammad’s anger surfaces when he remembers the militants rushing in front of his house. He says their large beards and look were foreign to him.

But he also expresses anger over the emergence of gunmen hiding among refugees who need aid. He said his family had allowed displaced Syrians into their home when they needed help.

Makram Malaeb, head of the Social Affairs Ministry’s Refugee Unit, told The Daily Star that about 508 Lebanese families had been displaced from Arsal, while around 32,000 Lebanese and 50,000 Syrians remain in the town.

He said that most have fled to areas in the Bekaa Valley, primarily Fakiha and Al-Qaa, using Labweh primarily as a passage point. A few have arrived to Beirut.

Thousands of refugees streamed from Arsal Monday morning during a three-hour truce.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 06, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Mohammad had just finished a phone call with his brother, a commando in the Lebanese Army fighting in Arsal.

Another brother was trapped in the town, unable to leave.

Both now stood in the mixed Sunni-Christian town of Fakiha, just a few kilometers from Arsal, where some displaced families from Arsal sought refuge.

Mohammad said other families who fled the town had mostly gone to homes of relatives or friends in other cities, including Beirut and Sidon.

Makram Malaeb, head of the Social Affairs Ministry's Refugee Unit, told The Daily Star that about 508 Lebanese families had been displaced from Arsal, while around 32,000 Lebanese and 50,000 Syrians remain in the town.


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