Lebanon army to launch campaign against militants near Syria border
Lebanese security forces will launch an operation against militants near informal refugee camps in the country's east after coming under attack there, Lebanon's prime minister said on Tuesday.
Saad Hariri's announcement came as the country's president warned against rising anti-refugee rhetoric after Lebanese troops were attacked around Arsal, a town nearthe Syrian border.
"The Lebanese army will carry out a planned-out operation in Jurud Arsal and the government gives it freedom (to do so)," Hariri said in comments quoted by the official National News Agency.
Jurud Arsal refers to the mountainous border region around Arsal, and is home to thousands of refugees from neighbouring Syria living in informal camps.
Lebanese troops carrying out arrest raids in two of those camps in late June were met with a string of suicide attacks and grenades.
A girl was killed and seven soldiers wounded in the attacks, and the army subsequently arrested dozens of people.
Days later, the army said four of the detainees had died of pre-existing medical conditions, but rights groups urged an independent investigation after allegations that the men had been tortured to death.
Lebanese security forces have come under attack in Arsal before, and in 2014 militants kidnapped 30 soldiers and policemen after clashes in the area.
Four of the hostages were killed and a fifth died of his wounds, while 16 were eventually released in December 2015.
Another nine hostages are still being held.
The latest incident in Arsal has created renewed tensions in a country of just four million people hosting more than one million Syrian refugees.
On Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned that anti-refugee rhetoric was dangerous for both sides.
"If we are working for the return of the refugees, it is because Lebanon is no longer able to carry the burden," Aoun said at a meeting with local officials, and in a post on his official Twitter account.
"But the spread of hatred and incitement are rejected, and their consequences are severe for both peoples," he added.
He urged Lebanese to make a distinction between Syrians who have "done wrong" and those who had not.
Lebanese leaders across the political spectrum have increased their calls for Syrian refugees to be repatriated, citing security concerns and unsustainable strains on local infrastructure.
But parties differ on how that should happen.
Hassan Nasrallah, head of the powerful Shia Hizballah movement that is fighting alongside Syria's government, has urged Lebanon to coordinate refugee returns with Damascus.
Others want to see the UN organise the process, although UN officials have said it is too soon to begin returning Syrians home.
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011.
Fighting continues in large parts of the country despite international peace talks and tentative ceasefire proposals.