Lebanon on Thursday banned all political gatherings by Syrians on its territory, citing a wish to preserve security two weeks ahead of a controversial Syrian presidential election.
Damascus has called on all Syrian refugees — except those who fled illegally — to cast their votes at embassies for the election, which is widely expected to return President Bashar al-Assad to office, despite the raging conflict.
“The interior ministry calls on Syrian refugees not to organise any gatherings or public meetings of a political character that may affect the security and stability of Lebanon, and relations with Lebanese citizens,” a statement said.
“This request is rooted in Lebanon’s policy of neutrality on the Syrian conflict and in the good relations between the Lebanese and Syrian refugees,” it added.
“The government reaffirms its commitment to the refugees’ freedom of political choice, so long as it does not conflict with national security.”
Tiny Lebanon is home to more than a million refugees from Syria giving it the highest refugee population per capita in the world.
After nearly 30 years of Syrian domination until 2005, Lebanon is deeply split over the Syrian conflict.
The interior ministry has asked the United Nations and NGOs working with Syrian refugees to inform them of the ban.