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NOW

Lebanese army conducts
unprecedented Arsal raid

Women protests gather for a protest Thursday in Arsal.
Protesters gather Thursday in Arsal.
Smoke billows over a refugee camp outside Arsal.
Smoke billows over a refugee camp outside Arsal.
Lebanese army detains refugees. (Twitter)
Lebanese army detains refugees. (Twitter)

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s army arrested hundreds of people at a Syrian refugee camp Thursday morning in a dramatic raid outside the beleaguered town of Arsal, sparking an angry demonstration and a threat of reprisal from the Al-Nusra Front.

 

Arsal Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fleeti told NOW that the Lebanese Armed Forces arrested over 200 people in the raid, adding that the operation was the largest of its kind since the start of the Syrian war.

 

“The number of refugees arrested [in the Arsal region] before today was around 200 or 250,” added the municipal official. The town currently hosts at least 40,000 Syrian refugees.

 

Lebanon’s state National News Agency reported that the “dozens of Lebanese and Syrian nationals” were arrested in the sweep, including four members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front.

 

Nabil al-Halabi, the executive director of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, said that the arrests were conducted illegally.

 

“Syrians were arrested randomly and illegally without any official warrant, they were humiliated, undressed [in public], beaten up and tied up while face down,” he told NOW.

 

During the raid, unknown individuals started a large fire in the area. In a terse statement the LAF remarked that “three [people] riding a motorbike tried to burn another [nearby] camp.”

 

“Army members shot and injured the [three suspects], who were arrested and transferred to a hospital for treatment.”

 

Halabi alleged that the raid was motivated by an IED attack that killed two soldiers outside Arsal on September 19, the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting army troops operating in the Arsal region following the early August clashes with Islamist militants.

 

“LAF officers are taking revenge by arresting large number of Syrian refugees and attacking their camps," he said.

 

LAF defends actions

 

LAF chief General Jean Qahwaji spoke after the raid to emphasize that army moves aimed to protect residents and prevent militants from infiltrating the Arsal area.

 

“The Lebanese army is determined to protect the security of our people in Arsal. There is no siege on the town of Arsal or its people,” Qahwaji told the press at a meeting with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Abdul Latif Deryan in Dar al-Fatwa.

 

“What the army is doing is preventing the militants in the mountains around Arsal from entering the town and attacking citizens.”

 

As the LAF continues to press its sweep operations in Arsal, Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported earlier in the week that Qahwaji recently issued a decree forming a new Special Forces regiment called the Mountain Combat Regiment.

 

The regiment was formed after Qahwaji gave instructions for the number of Special Forces regiments to be increased.

 

The Mountain Combat Companies were formed in past years as part of the Commandos Regiment before being “pulled out” in the last few days and becoming independent.

 

Protests in Arsal town center

 

Dozens of protesters—including both Syrian refugees and town residents—gathered outside Arsal’s municipality building following the morning raid.

 

“The people want the Islamic State!” was among the slogans chanted in the demonstration, which witnesses captured on video.

 

In a separate video of the protest, a large group of women could be heard chanting “For shame! Army [soldiers] are treading on the elderly. Lebanese army, you traitor! You are [intimidating] women.”

 

Members of the angry crowd also hoisted an Islamic State flag on a building facing the municipality HQ, the NNA reported.

 

Al-Nusra responds

 

The Al-Nusra Front reacted angrily to the army measures, sending an ominous warning on its Twitter account to the Lebanese people.

 

“To the Lebanese people. Your army is drawing the road of your future by entering Arsal and humiliating the Sunni people. Are you ready to pay the price of trusting it? We are waiting for your reply.”

 

Militants from the Al-Nusra Front and other jihadist groups operating along the Syrian-Lebanese border attacked the Beqaa town of Arsal on August 1, killing 19 Lebanese soldiers in five days of fighting before withdrawing to the mountainous Qalamoun border region with dozens of military hostages.

 

The Al-Qaeda-linked group has since executed one of the hostages, and threatened to kill another as negotiations mediated by Qatar between the Lebanese state and Islamists remain stalled.

Women protests gather for a protest Thursday in Arsal.

  • DIwane

    Those people have killed more sunnis than any other sect, they are a distraction encouraged by the Syrian regime. They don't represent the sunnis, they only represent themselves.

    September 26, 2014

  • Karole du Pont

    It's not a matter of Sunni confrontation with Lebanon. Lebanese Sunnis are an official part of the Lebanese system but Lebanese have the duty to protect all and Lebanon has a differential identity from all others in the ME.

    September 25, 2014