HERMEL, Lebanon: Some residents of the northeastern town of Arsal have threatened to attack Syrian refugees unless they close down their business in 48 hours, a move that the municipality said was aimed at inciting strife.
A few hours after the threat was issued Sunday, the Arsal Municipality slammed the statement, saying it was part of a smear campaign against the town.
“This suspicious statement, which we condemn, aims to incite strife between the residents, taking advantage of the obstacles we are facing to serve a blow to the area’s stability that Arsal’s residents are still able to maintain," the municipality said in a statement.
The municipality also spoke out against media reports against the residents, which it said sought to portray the town as though it was controlled by “takfiri terrorists.”
"The municipality seeks to affirm that it is the sole authority, along with security forces, allowed to place conditions and laws dealing with the Syrian visitors,” the statement added.
A source at Arsal's Municipality downplayed the threat against the refugees, saying the group behind it “was not an organized party but most probably a few residents in the town.”
A statement released by a group calling itself “Arsal’s youth” said: "We are fed up and we have become unemployed ... we grant Syrian refugees 48 hours to close down their businesses without exception and to stop Syrian vehicles or motorcycles from traveling on the road under any circumstances."
"Anyone who violates this statement will be a legitimate target for Arsal's youth,” it added.
Arsal Municipality has banned vehicles with Syrian license plates from going through the town for security reasons after several media outlets reported that explosive-rigged vehicles were entering Lebanon via the border town.
The border town has recently received a large influx of Syrian refugees as a result of ongoing battles in Qalamoun, a mountainous area north of Damascus and adjacent to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
An estimated 40,000 refugees have settled in Arsal, exacerbating the already dire socio-economic conditions there.
Residents of Arsal have on several occasions voiced their frustration over the growing unemployment rates, which they attribute to the increased number of Syrian businesses.
They have also complained that the town's resources are becoming scarce due to overpopulation, prompting some to ask Syrian tenants to decrease their consumption of water and electricity or be subjected to rationing.
Trade relations with Arsal’s neighbors, particularly nearby Shiite villages, have also been strained by the presence of rebel groups among the refugees, town’s officials have said.