HERMEL, Lebanon: Some residents of the northeastern town of Arsal have threatened to attack Syrian refugees unless they close down their businesses in 48 hours, a move the local municipality said was aimed at “inciting strife.”
A few hours after the threat was issued Sunday, Arsal’s Municipality condemned 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 deal a blow to the area’s stability, which Arsal’s residents are still able to maintain,” the municipality said in a statement.
The municipality also slammed media reports that it said sought to portray Arsal as though it were 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 the 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.
An estimated 40,000 Syrian refugees have settled in the border town, exacerbating the already dire socio-economic conditions there. There has been an extra recent influx as a result of ongoing battles in Qalamoun, a mountainous area in Syria adjacent to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
Residents of Arsal have on several occasions voiced their frustration over growing unemployment rates and strained resources, both of which they attribute to the sudden population increase.