Lebanon’s military on Saturday dismissed allegations of abuse against hundreds of Syrian detainees caught up in a security sweep in a refugee settlement, saying the mass detentions were needed to combat terrorism.
The official said the detention of 355 Syrians “is not a directed aggression against anyone,” and that not all of them will be charged with terrorism. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Five suicide bombers blew themselves up Friday during military raids in two refugee settlements in Arsal, near the border with Syria. One of the bombers detonated his payload among a Syrian refugee family, killing a girl. Another wounded three soldiers, leaving two of them in critical condition, the official said. During the early Friday raid, attackers also tossed explosives at the troops.
The subsequent security sweep sparked accusations of abuse, particularly after pictures surfaced of detainees flat on the ground with their hands bound as Lebanese soldiers stood over them.
“The reaction should be to question how a refugee camp turned into a refuge for terrorists,” the official said, rebuffing accusations of abuse. He said no women or children are detained and no detainee was deprived of food or drink. The official said interrogations of the detainees are underway and those who have no relation to the attacks will be released.
The official said the raids on the two settlements in Arsal came after tips about the presence of explosives and a plot to carry out attacks in Lebanon.
Lebanese troops have clashed with militants near the Syrian border on a number of occasions in recent years. Lebanon has also taken in well over a million refugees, who now account for around a quarter of the tiny country’s population.
Arsal and the surrounding area was the scene of a major cross-border attack in 2014, when a number of Lebanese soldiers were abducted.