Last updated: 8 August, 2014

Hundreds of refugees return to Syria after Lebanon clashes

Several hundred Syrian refugees who had been sheltering in a Lebanese town where the army and jihadists have been fighting crossed back into Syria on Friday, a nun assisting them said.

Sister Agnes, a nun based in Syria, told AFP a first group of 350 of some 1,700 refugees who left the town of Arsal yesterday passed through the Masnaa border crossing back into Syria on Friday.

The group set out from Arsal on Wednesday after a ceasefire between jihadists and the Lebanese military, following clashes that began on Saturday and have killed 17 soldiers and, reportedly, dozens of civilians.

The departure appeared to be the first time a group of refugees has left Lebanon en masse to return to Syria.

Sister Agnes, who is close to the Syrian regime, said a number of refugees living in Arsal had requested help to return home before the fighting in the town began.

They faced difficulties because some of them had failed to do their military service in Syria and some also entered Lebanon illegally.

They arrived at the Masnaa crossing on Thursday, but were unable to cross because of administrative difficulties, including lack of identity documents for babies born in Lebanon.

Most of those leaving come from the Qalamun region, just across the border with Arsal, including from the town of Qara, where Sister Agnes’s convent is based.

She told AFP on Thursday that an additional 3,000 refugees in Arsal were hoping to leave for Syria.

At least 47,000 Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town where many residents sympathise with the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

But their presence and reports that some of the militants fighting the army since Saturday emerged from Syrian refugee camps in Arsal, have raised tensions, including with the neighbouring Shiite town of Labweh.

Many Lebanese Shiites support Assad’s regime, and some Labweh residents jeered and swore at the departing refugees as they passed through the town en route to the Masnaa crossing on Thursday.

More than a million Syrian refugees have flooded into Lebanon since the conflict began in March 2011.