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Syrian refugee camp burnt to ground in northern Lebanon

December 27, 2020 GMT

BEIRUT (AP) — More than 300 Syrian refugees were forced to flee an informal camp in northern Lebanon as a blaze raged through and burnt tents to the ground, U.N. and Lebanese officials said Sunday.

The fire late Saturday raged for four hours as firefighters tried to put it out, the Lebanese civil defense said.

The fire ensued following a fight between a Lebanese family and Syrians living in the camp in the al-Miniyeh district in the country’s north, according to Lebanese media reports.

The Lebanese army said Sunday it had conducted raids and arrested two Lebanese men and six Syrians as part of the investigation. The statement said the Lebanese men had fired weapons into the air and torched the tents. The army also confiscated weapons during the raids and said it expected to make further arrests.

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Khaled Kabbara, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman in northern Lebanon, said some 375 people lived in the informal settlement that was located on a plot of rented land. He said the entire camp was burnt to the ground.

Kabbara said four people were hospitalized with minor injuries from the fire. He said some residents of the camp returned Sunday to see if anything could be salvaged.

Most of the refugees have sought shelter in other nearby informal settlements, and some members of the local community have also offered shelter, Kabbara said.

Kabbara said altercations between residents and Syrian refugees often “catastrophically impact the community as a whole.”

Tensions are common in Lebanon between citizens and Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their country. Lebanon is host to more than 1 million refugees, nearly a quarter of the country’s population of 5 million, burdening the nation’s already crumbling infrastructure.

Tensions between Lebanese and Syrians also dates back to the days when Syria dominated its smaller neighbor for almost three decades with thousands of troops stationed in Lebanon. They withdrew in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which sparked massive anti-Syrian protests.