Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

60 Syrian Families Leave Lebanon’s Arsal after Increased Pressure | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Lebanese army soldier gestures at a military vehicle at the entrance of the border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Hassan Abdallah / Reuters

Beirut- The number of Syrian refugees who have left the Lebanese border town of Arsal for Syria in the past month has risen to 700, after around 300 displaced Syrians headed to their villages in the Qalamoun region on Wednesday.

This was the second group to return under an agreement which “Hezbollah” arranged in indirect talks with the Syrian rebel group Saraya Ahl al-Sham.

The Lebanese army escorted around 300 people out of Arsal as the buses carried 60 families to their hometowns.

The latest security developments in Arsal, including suicide bombings that targeted the Lebanese army in encampments on the town’s outskirts, sped up a decision by the refugees to leave, although they are aware that their humanitarian conditions would not be better.

An announcement made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that time was running out for Syrian militants along the border near Arsal also contributed to the decision for the refugees to return to their hometowns.

“It’s high time to end the threat of militant groups in Arsal and little time is left to reach certain reconciliation deals,” Nasrallah warned on Tuesday.

Although the United Nations neither sponsored nor coordinated the return of the displaced, a delegation from the UNHCR was on hand by holding meetings with the returning refugees to make sure that they were willingly heading back home, the agency’s spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said.

“What happened is that there was a deal between armed groups. The UN has nothing to do with it,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

“We documented the return of around 60 families. We made sure that they are aware of the conditions that they are returning to,” Abou Khaled said.

Arsal municipal chief Bassel al-Hujairi also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the municipality was not a partner in the negotiations.