ARSAL, Lebanon: Thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing from the battles in the Syrian city of Qusair have taken refuge in the border village of Arsal, as 85 people wounded in the fighting were transferred to hospitals in the Bekaa Valley and north Lebanon.
“There are now around 27,000 Syrian refugees in Arsal, which is nearly equal to the number of its residents, which is only 35,000,” Arsal’s Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fliti told The Daily Star Sunday.
He said the sudden influx of such a large number of refugees made it impossible to obtain accurate statistics about the arrivals.
An operation to evacuate the wounded began Saturday in Qusair, security sources said, adding that 85 of the wounded had been transferred to hospitals in both north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.
They said Lebanese Red Cross ambulances transported 50 of the wounded to hospitals in the western and central Bekaa Valley and another 35 were taken to facilities in the north of the country, such as Kheir Hospital in the town of Minyeh.
The International Committee of the Red Cross took the wounded from Qusair to Lebanese border crossings where they were handed to the Lebanese Red Cross, the sources said.
The evacuation process is ongoing and more wounded are expected to arrive for treatment, they added.
Security sources told The Daily Star that a total of some 800 people who were wounded in Qusair are expected to arrive gradually to Lebanon, noting that around 70 succumbed to their injuries during the evacuation process.
During the battles and intense bombardment on the village by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, the Red Cross was refused access to the wounded and there were conflicting reports of civilians’ ability to flee from the city. Syria’s government refused to grant the Red Cross access to the city until the fighting ended last week. Mahmoud, 23, who fought alongside the rebel Free Syrian Army, was recovering at his father’s home in Arsal after his hand was amputated and his leg had multiple fractures. He was among a group of fighters who confronted a convoy of tanks at the entrance of the village of Buwayda near Qusair, he said.
“There were around 4,000 fighters in the last battle who were besieged in the city center after they lost all their ammunition and were losing about 50 fighters every day,” he said.
He added that the unit he fought with consisted of 30 fighters, of whom only four survived.
In the Baalbek village of Brital, dozens of men held a protest along the international highway, objecting to seeing the wounded from Qusair treated at dispensaries in Arsal and hospitals in the Western Bekaa.
The protesters didn’t block the highway, however, and they dispersed after a short period, according to the National News Agency.
Early Sunday, an Army checkpoint in the border village of Deir Ashayer in the western Bekaa Valley was shot at by unidentified armed men with machine guns and took off in a car, according to media reports. Army troops returned fire at the men in an attempt to stop them, but no casualties were reported.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, an MP for the district, denounced the incident. “Rashaya and the Western Bekaa will always respect the law,” he said, stressing the importance of “embracing the Army and supporting it, because it is the sole protector of civil peace.”
He called for an immediate investigation into the issue and the arrest and of those responsible.
Hezbollah MPs, meanwhile, continued to defend their party’s decision to fight in Syria following fierce criticism from March 14 politicians.
Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, who heads the party’s parliamentary bloc, accused critics of being responsible for “involving Lebanon [in the Syrian crisis] over the past two years, when they kicked out the Army from the northern areas making it an area outside of the law, while advocating the process of state-building at the same time.”
“They have violated the country’s security and stability by implicating it in the support for armed gangs,” he said, referring to the Syrian rebels.
“At a time when they propose implementing the Taif Accord and accuse others of attempting to topple it, they don’t respond to our calls to implement all its articles, the most important of which is to establish distinguished relations with Syria.”
“We won’t respond to the insult campaigns ... and it’s enough that we have restored glory to Lebanon ... Those who count on the West, the Israelis, and takfiri groups to harm this glory won’t be part of the national partnership of this country.”