Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Warnings of ‘Political Trap’ in Tension between Lebanese, Syrian Refugees | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian refugees walk along a makeshift settlement in Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley January 5, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Beirut- Tension between Syrian refugees and the Lebanese people peeked this week after a video showing an assault of a Syrian national went viral Tuesday.

Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq announced on Wednesday that the Lebanese men who assaulted the refugee were recently arrested by the Internal Security Forces Intelligence branch.

Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that three men were involved in the assault that took place in the town of Dekwaneh east of Beirut.

This incident is not the first. Tension between the Lebanese community hosting the Syrian refugees has reached breaking point after several assaults against the displaced took place in the past.

Activists and human rights organizations have sounded the alarm bell, warning of a “political trap.”

The issue of refugees came back to the forefront around two weeks ago when the Lebanese army carried out raids in encampments on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal.

During the raids, there were grenade blasts and three suicide bombers blew themselves, killing a child and wounding seven Lebanese soldiers.

Dozens of people were arrested. But later the army announced that four of the Syrian detainees had died of pre-existing conditions, prompting rights groups to urge a probe into allegations of torture.

In the wake of the Arsal incidents, anti-refugee rhetoric has been sounded by Lebanese artists, media and high-ranking politicians. Some parties have also come up with plans on the return of the refugees home, leading to a dispute between those calling for coordination with the Syrian regime and parties demanding such a return take place via the United Nations.

Some officials even warned that such tension would lead to a repeat of Lebanon’s civil war.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat was among them. “No for protests against matters involving refugees, no for reliving the experiences of 1975 and 1976 – which shattered the country – and yes for telling terrorism apart from Syrian refugees,” Jumblat said on Twitter.

A group of activists, called the Socialist Forum, recently announced plans to hold a protest in downtown Beirut Tuesday to defend the rights of Syrians in Lebanon.

In response to this planned demonstration, Mashnouq banned all protests in Lebanon for fears that some sides would use the protest to criticize the Lebanese army.

The Socialist Forum slammed a plan to hold a rival protest in support of the army, saying it revived “the old political trap that widely opened the doors of hatred,” leading to a rant on social media.

“What shocked us more was neither the decision to ban the protest nor the racist speeches of politicians and not even the threats that our members received,” the forum said in a statement.

“The campaign against us because of a sit-in we had organized in support of the Syrian refugee in Lebanon was the most shocking,” it added.