Lebanon News

Army denies it is forcefully sending Syrian refugees home

BEIRUT: A Syrian was charged Friday with campaigning against the Syrian regime and endangering Lebanon’s security, as the army denied that it was forcefully repatriating Syrians in the north of the country.

The military investigative magistrate in Mount Lebanon, Mohammad Badran, requested that Ihsan Atrash be sentenced to three years in prison for distributing flyers that called for the toppling of the Syrian regime.

According to the indictment, Atrash is a member of a secret organization called “The Free National Gathering,” and was allegedly engaged in distributing flyers to both Syrians and Lebanese in the Chouf area. “It [the flyer] contained calls for changing the regime in Syria … and it was mainly distributed to Syrians from Daraa working in Lebanon,” the indictment read.

Separately, the Lebanese Army said that it had not engaged in forcibly returning Syrian refugees home.

Responding to what it said were “recent media reports,” the army said it transferred Syrian soldiers who had entered Lebanon to Syrian authorities after judicial authorities declared the soldiers were not refugees.

In a statement, the Lebanese Army said it was forced to return three Syrian soldiers, two of whom were severely wounded, and the body of a border guard to their country Tuesday, after consulting local judicial authorities.

The statement added that the Syrian soldiers had crossed into Lebanon when their station came under fire from armed individuals

The Army Command confirmed that “there are no Syrian soldiers on Lebanese territory, especially after the army’s units took strict measures at the common crossings.”

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, called on the authorities to stop detaining Syrian refugees who have crossed the border into Lebanon to escape violence, asking the government to provide them temporary asylum.

The group issued a statement Friday in which it said security organizations had detained nine men and a child since the middle of the month, for crossing illegally into Lebanon.

“Syria welcomed many Lebanese fleeing civil war back in 2006,” said Nadim Houry, Beirut director at Human Rights Watch. “Now it’s time to return the favor. Lebanon should be offering immediate refuge to Syrians fleeing death or torture in their country.”

HRW said the Syrians were still in detention in Lebanon, although they were not guilty of committing acts that would justify detention or repatriation.

Lebanese mukhtars in the border area of Wadi Khaled estimate that 3,500 Syrians refugees are currently present in their communities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2011, on page 2.




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