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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Eight arrested after arson attack on Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon

The camp's more than 370 residents were forced to flee. [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 December, 2020

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The fire on Saturday night tore through the tented shelters of some 75 families near the town of Bhanine in the north Lebanon Miniyeh region, leaving only a charred wasteland.
Lebanon's army said it had arrested eight people after a number of locals in Tripoli set fire to an informal refugee settlement for Syrians in the country's north.

The army said on Sunday it "arrested two Lebanese nationals and six Syrians over a personal dispute... between a number of Lebanese men and Syrian workers", according to a statement.

"The Lebanese men fired bullets in the air and torched the tents of Syrian refugees," it added, without elaborating on the cause of the altercation between the Syrian and Lebanese defendents. 

Saturday's fire tore through the tented shelters of some 75 families near the town of Bhanine in the north Lebanon Miniyeh region, leaving only a charred wasteland.

The camp's more than 370 residents were forced to flee, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and at least four people were taken to hospital for injuries.

On Sunday, dozens of refugees returned to the remains of the camp to try to salvage what remained.

"I came back to check on belongings inside our small tent only to discover that we no longer own anything," said Amira Issa, a 45-year-old mother of five who fled Syria eight years ago. 

"We lost everything in one moment," she told AFP, sobbing. 

The fire sparked an outpouring of sympathy on social media from Lebanese, who condemned what they called a racist attack.

Syria's foreign ministry expressed "deep regret" over the incident and called on "Syrians forced to leave their country by an unjust war to return" home. 

UNHCR said most camp residents have found temporary shelter.

"They have relocated to nearby informal settlements... or were taken in by area residents," said UNHCR spokesman Khaled Kabbara.

"We saw a remarkable level of solidarity from the Lebanese community offering vacant shelters, including hospitals and schools." 

Lebanon says it hosts some 1.5 million Syrians, including around one million registered as refugees with the United Nations.

Authorities have called on refugees to return to Syria even though rights groups warn that the war-torn country is not yet safe. A number of returnees have been jailed or killed shortly after arriving back in Syria.

In November, around 270 Syrian refugee families fled the northern Lebanese town of Bsharre after a Syrian national was accused of shooting dead a Lebanese resident.

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