BEIRUT: Dozens residents who fled devastated Arsal held a demonstration Wednesday in Beirut to express solidarity with their relatives who couldn't flee, and called for a political solution to end the violence and allow humanitarian aid to reach the town.
“We came to tell the friends and relatives from Arsal that we are here for you,” said one of the demonstrators, who added she had fled the town due to her pregnancy.
“We do not care if the state negotiates with what they are calling terrorists, said Salam Fleity, another participant who fled with her family Tuesday night. “What we care about is that they end the battle and save innocent civilians’ lives.”
Fleity told The Daily Star about a “humanitarian crisis” in the town, saying people were deprived of electricity and mobile networks, and that families have little to no chance of getting bread and water so long as the clashes continue.
A convoy carrying vital humanitarian supplies for thousands of needy people had left Chtaura earlier Wednesday to head to Arsal, the first aid convoy since the fighting broke out five days ago.
Another participant in the demonstration, who chose to speak anonymously, said only eight percent of Arsal’s people were able to flee. The rest, he said, are subject to continuous bombardment from “unknown sides or places.”
Many of the participants demonstrators accused Hezbollah of participating in the conflict, with one of them saying to the press that “Hezbollah has moved the battle to Arsal in revenge for their losses in Qalamoun.”
He said that rockets from nearby Hezbollah-controlled villages have been falling on Arsal, specifying the towns of Labweh, Nabi Osman, Al-Zeereh and Harbata.
While most demonstrators said the Islamist militants were not assaulting civilians - blaming Hezbollah for the civilian deaths - a voice among the crowd raised her voice in dissent.
Carrying her two-year-old grandson in her right hand, a woman in her fifties said she was shocked to find out that her shop in Arsal, which she had rented to a Syrian national, was used during the recent clashes as an arms stock for the militants.
“Yes it’s true that they are robbing homes and attacking people,” she added talking to The Daily Star. “But what can we do to them? If you say anything wrong you’ll receive a bullet.”
The battle in Arsal between the Army and militants entered its fifth day Wednesday, after the failure of a cease-fire that was negotiated by the Muslim Scholars Committee. The ill-fated 24-hour truce lasted for 3 hours only, and was reportedly breached by an armed attack on soldiers Tuesday night.
Several local officials, as well as security sources, confirmed that the majority of Islamist militants from the Nusra Front withdrew from Arsal overnight. However, according to the sources, fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria insisted on staying to continue fighting the Army.
The sources said that Imad Jomaa, the arrest of whom prompted the armed attacks on the Army, was a Nusra Front leader until recently pledging allegiance to ISIS.
A total of 38 security forces - 22 soldiers and 19 policemen from the Internal Security Forces - were missing after jihadists from Syria overran Arsal on Saturday. Three members of the Internal Security Forces were handed over Tuesday.