Residents of a village in eastern Lebanon forced hundreds of Syrian refugees from an informal campsite on Monday, setting fire to tents after accusing them of raping a mentally-disabled man.
But a doctor who examined the man said there was no evidence he was attacked, and one resident of the village said the alleged rape was a pretext to drive the refugees from the site.
The incident comes amid warnings from the Lebanese government and aid agencies about tensions between Lebanese communities and the more than 800,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to the small country, which has its own long history of unrest.
The informal camp in the eastern Bekaa village of Qsar Naba housed some 400 refugees in around 100 tents and shelters.
On Sunday a group of local residents stormed the camp, setting fire to some of the tents and threatening its residents.
After the attack, many of the refugees began dismantling their shelters and spent Sunday night sleeping in the open nearby.
The residents returned on Monday, the refugees said, setting fire to at least 15 tents and knocking down others.
Ahmed Abdul Mahmud, a 33-year-old refugee, said members of the local Dirani family led the attack.
“The Diranis burned the tents and then refused to allow the fire brigade through to put the flames out,” he told AFP.
“There’s not a single tent left for us,” he said, weeping.
He said the attackers beat the refugees and stole their belongings.
“They accused us of attacking a young man, knowing that the Lebanese army had already raided the tents, arrested about 30 people and then released them all for lack of evidence.”
“I have three children, the eldest of whom is just six. We don’t know where to go. After this I just want to go back to Syria.”
The attack came after members of the Dirani family, who own the campsite land, accused four refugees of sexually assaulting a 29-year-old mentally-disabled member of the family.
“He was passing by the camp, and four residents lured him inside a tent and raped him,” Ali Dirani told AFP.
“The man’s mother found traces of blood on his trousers and informed the residents of the village,” he said.
But the doctor who examined the alleged victim told AFP there was no sign he had been raped.
Ahmed Walid Suleiman said he had submitted a report saying “there is no medical proof that indicates the young man was subjected to any kind of attack.”
“There are no signs of violence, or blood or bruising,” he added.
A resident of Qsar Naba, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the rape allegation as “fabricated.”
He said the dispute “stems from the Dirani family, who own the land, wanting to get it back and not finding a way to get rid of the refugees.”
Lebanon, with a population of four million, is hosting 832,000 registered Syrian refugees, with estimates of more than a million in the country, including those not yet registered with the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
UNHCR’s deputy representative for Lebanon, Jean-Paul Cavalieri, told AFP the incident highlighted the need for more aid to bolster often-impoverished Lebanese communities hosting Syrian refugees.
And he said the attack should be seen in the larger context.
“This is one serious incident, but overall it’s still quite isolated, and in the broader context what we have is Lebanon giving quite a remarkable hospitality to over 800,000 refugees,” he said.