Hundreds of refugees return to Syria

August 09, 2014 - 1:23:59 am

BEIRUT: Several hundred Syrian refugees sheltering in a Lebanese town where the army and jihadists have been fighting crossed back into Syria yesterday, a nun assisting them said.

Sister Agnes, based in Syria, said a first group of 350 of some 1,700 refugees who left the town of Arsal yesterday passed through the Masnaa border crossing back into Syria.

The group set out from Arsal on Wednesday after a ceasefire between jihadists and the Lebanese military, following clashes that began on Saturday and have killed 17 soldiers and dozens of civilians. The departure appeared to be the first time a group of refugees has left Lebanon en masse to return to Syria.

Sister Agnes, close to the Syrian regime, said many refugees in Arsal had requested help to return home before the fighting in the town began.

They faced difficulties because some had failed to do their military service in Syria and some entered Lebanon illegally.

They arrived at the Masnaa crossing on Thursday, but were unable to cross because of administrative difficulties, including lack of identity documents for babies born in Lebanon.

Most had come from the Qalamun region across the border with Arsal, including the town of Qara, where Sister Agnes’s convent is based. She said on Thursday that an additional 3,000 refugees in Arsal were hoping to leave for Syria. At least 47,000 Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town where many residents sympathise with the Syrian uprising.

But their presence and reports of militants fighting the army since Saturday have raised tensions, including with the neighbouring Shia town of Labweh.