BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Wednesday that Lebanon clearly differentiates between Syrian refugees and militants, vowing that Lebanese security agencies would continue their crackdown against sleeper cells.
“The [Lebanese] Army cannot be lenient with the militants who attack security forces and conduct suicide attacks against civilians and servicemen,” Aoun said while receiving Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth in Baabda Palace, according to a statement carried by his media office.
There are 1 million Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Lebanon, although the Lebanese government places the total figure at close to 1.5 million.
Aoun also said that Lebanese government institutions would continue to offer aid to Syrian refugees, “knowing that international aid is directly sent to them.”
He added that the refugees left Syria “to escape war, killing and destruction and not for political reasons.”
Lebanon supports “a safe return” for refugees to Syria, he said, but he went on to say that the state was not in favor of “voluntary return.”
Roth praised Aoun for acting as a “role model” in his refusal to accept prejudice against Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon.
During the meeting, which was also attended by Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, Aoun reiterated Lebanon’s respect for human rights, noting that Lebanon works in collaboration with civil society organizations, including HRW, “to defend human rights.”
Human rights activists have recently called on the Lebanese state to respect human rights and conduct additional investigations into the deaths of four Syrian nationals while in Lebanese custody. The four men in question had been detained during June 30 raids on a Syrian encampment in northeast Lebanon’s Arsal.
The Lebanese authorities have rejected accusations of human rights violations, maintaining that the deaths were of natural causes.
“Lebanon takes necessary measures to prevent all forms of torture,” Aoun said Wednesday, adding that the state ensures all suspects stand fair trials “according to legal proceedings.”