Lebanon News

Syrian gunship hits Arsal, refugees flood over border

Arsal alone has received some 12,000 Syrians over the past few days.

HERMEL, Lebanon: A Syrian gunship raided the northeastern town of Arsal Monday, killing two men from the town’s most powerful family as refugees continued to pour over the border.

The gunship targeted the Wadi Mira region on the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni area that backs the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A security source told The Daily Star the victims were Youssef Hujeiri, 31, and his brother Khaled, 33, both relatives of Mayor Ali Hujeiri. Their bodies were taken to a hospital in Arsal, they added.

However, Agence France Presse, also quoting security sources, said the two were killed in a mine explosion en route to Qara, in Syria’s Qalamoun area, where regime forces have launched an offensive against rebel groups.

The fighting over the border has pushed thousands of refugees to flee to Lebanon. The Social Affairs minister announced Monday that Arsal alone had received some 12,000 Syrians over the past few days.

“The latest figures of Syrian refugees who arrived in Arsal over the weekend exceeded 10,000,” said Saleh Hdaifeh, a spokesman for the ministry. “We have at least 1,700 families and a total of more than 12,000 people.”

Hdaifeh said that the ministry was establishing a temporary shelter center in Arsal where the refugees could stay until they find an alternative refuge.

“There is a small piece of land where we are setting up the temporary shelter,” Hdaifeh said.

“The refugees will stay at the center until they can move to other Lebanese regions because Arsal is already overloaded with refugees and cannot cope with the new influx,” he added.

Arsal was already hosting over 30,000 refugees before the most recent influx, he said.

Hdaifeh said that the ministry was coordinating with local and international organizations, the International Red Cross, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to assist the refugees arriving in Arsal.

UNHCR spokesperson Dana Sleiman told The Daily Star that the U.N.’s refugee agency was cooperating with the ministry and providing it with “guidance and support.”

A statement released by the ministry Monday said its teams were still working in Arsal as well as in the southern border town of Shebaa “to address the case of Syrian refugees in those areas.”

The ministry has established a relief center in the area aimed at providing refugees with access to health care, food and shelter, as well as working on social assessment. It is also coordinating the process of accommodation with several organizations. The statement went on to say that four more Syrian refugees reportedly entered Lebanon through the Shebaa area in the south Monday, after 31 entered Sunday. The total number of refugees since the end of October is now close to a 1,000. The ministry is also working on establishing a relief center in Shebaa to both distribute aid and register refugees.

Separately, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that Lebanon was looking forward to the establishment of Syrian refugee camps inside Syria under the umbrella of the United Nations. “We are discussing with the U.N. ways to address the plight of the Syrian refugees in terms of the establishment of camps inside Syrian territory.”

He also revealed that Lebanese authorities had adopted “new measures” to make border control between Lebanon and Syria more effective, but did not offer details.

Lebanon is currently hosting over 800,000 Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR, while the government estimates the number of displaced Syrians living in Lebanon at over a million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 19, 2013, on page 1.




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