World Bulletin / News Desk
No negotiations are currently taking place for the release of 13 captured Lebanese troops, a leader of the Al-Nusra Front – which is holding the soldiers captured in the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal – has said.
"We have not met Qatari mediators in this regard for a week now," the group leader, who hails from the Syrian town of Qalamoun, told Anadolu Agency in a conversation online.
In early August, 18 Lebanese troops were captured in Arsal by the Al-Nusra Front – one of several militant groups fighting the Syrian regime – during clashes with the Lebanese army.
Early last month, intense fighting broke out between the Al-Nusra Front and the ISIL on the one hand and the Lebanese army on the other.
Along with killing 17 Lebanese troops, the two militant movements also managed to capture a number of Lebanese soldiers.
Earlier this month, Qatar sent mediators to help negotiate the soldiers' release with the two militant groups.
However, the leader from Qalamoun said the front would not release the captured soldiers until Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement had pulled its forces from Syria.
Hezbollah has been heavily involved in Syria's civil war, sending thousands of troops to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his battle against a heavily armed opposition.
The front leader went on to assert that his movement also wanted to see allied prisoners in Lebanese jails released and Syrian refugees in Lebanon leading a dignified life.
Around 1.2 million Syrians have fled the fighting in their country and sought refuge in Lebanon, piling pressure on the latter country's national economy and infrastructure, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
The Al-Nusra leader said his movement had already articulated its demands to Qatari mediators, who, he said, had yet to reply.
Qatari mediators, he added, were only interested in securing the release of the captured Lebanese troops, saying the Qataris did not care about Syrians who, he claimed, were being killed by Hezbollah.
In a statement issued on Twitter earlier Tuesday, Al-Nusra said the door was still open for negotiating the captured soldiers' release.
The movement, however, threatened to execute one of the soldiers for what it described as "foot dragging."
Out of 18 Lebanese troops captured, Al-Nusra continues to hold 13 after having recently released five of them.
UN official warns of 'another Arsal' in Lebanon
The presence of large numbers of Syrian refugees on the border between Lebanon and Syria could turn these areas into "another Arsal," a representative of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon has said.
Ninette Kelley, UNHCR representative in Lebanon, added that the size of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon was unprecedented compared with the size of the host country.
Arsal, an eastern Lebanon town on the border with Syria, made headlines early last month when fierce fighting broke out between Lebanese troops and two militant groups fighting the regime in Syria.
Seventeen Lebanese troops were killed in the clashes, while the two militant groups also managed to capture several Lebanese soldiers who they continue to hold until now.
Kelley said the flow of refugees out of Syria had become uncontrollable, adding in an interview with Anadolu Agency that the UNHCR could only offer advice to the Lebanese government.
The government recently announced plans to set up experimental refugee centers in border areas.
The U.N. official, however, said it wasn't advisable for the Lebanese government to establish such centers and add to the number of refugees already on the border.
She said refugee camps could become the scene of militant activities, as was the case with Arsal early last month.
Kelley said the Lebanese people had been deeply concerned about growing refugee numbers since last month's clashes in Arsal.
She said increasing numbers of Lebanese wanted to ensure that the presence of Syrian refugees would not endanger the country's security.
Solution in Syria
Kelley said that, following the events in Arsal, the Lebanese government had taken a series of security measures, but added that the measures hadn't only affected Syrian refugees.
Lebanese citizens, too, she said, had been targeted by the stepped-up security measures.
The solution to the influx of Syrian refugees could only be found in Syria itself, she asserted, calling for a halt to what she described as aggression in Syria.
The U.N. official noted that the international community should first focus on halting aggression in Lebanon's war-torn neighbor.
There never would have been a refugee influx, she said, if there had not been an internal conflict in Syria.
The Lebanese government is currently working tooth and nail to alleviate the effects of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees now in Lebanon.
The government is also encouraging Syrians who violate residency rules to go back to their country by exempting them from fines for the violations.
The UNHCR expects the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to rise to 1.5 million by the end of the year.
Commenting on the recent destruction of a number of refugee tents in Arsal, Kelley said it was difficult for her organization to assess the damage at present – or even know what was happening inside the town.
She said the UNHCR was in contact with a number of refugee volunteers, as well as civil society activists in Arsal.
Kelley added that some 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon were currently registered with the UNHCR, noting that refugees continued to come from Lebanon to Syria.
Kelley stressed the need for the UNHCR to maintain its efforts to help the refugees and secure the assistance needed by local authorities and institutions.
She warned against mounting frustration inside Lebanon if the country did not receive international support.
She added that 31 percent of the UNHCR's budget had been earmarked for humanitarian aid, meaning the organization alone would be unable to satisfy most of Lebanon's needs.
She said the UNHCR had received $500 million for its humanitarian activities in Lebanon, which, she noted, had help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Kelley said the UNHCR would need fixed funding in order to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in the short- to mid-term future.Last Mod: 17 Eylül 2014, 09:47