Lebanon in plea for international help to deal with people displaced by Israel-Hezbollah skirmishes

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s social affairs minister on Monday appealed for urgent international support to help deal with growing numbers of people displaced by Israel-Hezbollah skirmishes in the country’s southern border areas.

Authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about the situation which has so far left dozens of civilians and Hezbollah fighters dead.

And tensions remain high in northern Lebanon, where hundreds of Syrian economic migrants continue to make attempts to cross the border.

In a plea for assistance in the south from the international community, Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar said: “The needs are very great while funding is very weak.”

Displaced people from southern border villages are being provided with shelter at centers in the city of Tyre and nearby towns, on the Zahrani coast, and Sidon, where schools and furnished apartments are being used to offer free accommodation.

On Monday, Hajjar visited three public schools in Tyre from where he issued his appeal for help.

Early on Monday, Red Cross teams, in coordination with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, managed to recover the bodies of three Hezbollah affiliates from the heights of Halta in the Hasbaya District.

And Lebanese Red Cross teams working with the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL recovered a body and four wounded people from the outskirts of Kfarhamam, also in Hasbaya District, to Marjayoun Governmental Hospital.

Hajjar added: “There are villagers who are still in their homes, and we need full coordination with disaster risk management in case the situation escalates further and they need to leave their villages. We hope that this does not happen.

“We are monitoring the situation and I do not think anyone in Lebanon has information. We do not want a war or attacks on us.

“No one should think we have enormous capabilities, but there is solidarity and the institutions working within the framework of relief work must operate under the state’s administration and under the disaster committee’s administration and should be prepared.

“We cannot handle this on our own, especially in light of the presence of Syrian refugees; a file that should be managed separately.

“The shelter centers will not be (allocated) to Syrian refugees, and we had suggested during the disaster committee meeting that UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) undertake the establishment of a precautionary camp on the Lebanese border with Syria or somewhere between the Lebanese and Syrian borders, to be ready within a week to shelter them in the event of any security emergency.”

The issue of Syrian refugees was the focus of a meeting held in Damascus on Monday between Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and caretaker Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, who headed a security and diplomatic delegation to the Syrian capital to present the Lebanese perspective on addressing the situation.

In a joint statement after the meeting, the two ministers pointed out “the importance of mutual cooperation to ensure the dignified return of displaced Syrians to their motherland, and the need for the international community, the United Nations and its specialized agencies to shoulder their responsibilities in assisting in achieving this goal.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army Command announced that its units had recently thwarted attempts by around 800 Syrians to sneak into Lebanon through illegal border crossings.

Army chiefs said they were “monitoring the activity of Syrian refugees and their movements inside Lebanon.”

Lebanese authorities estimate there to be more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

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