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19 July 2017

Lebanon detains men behind assault on Syrian refugee

Screen grab from Facebook showing Lebanese men assaulting a Syrian refugeeImage copyright
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A video showing several Lebanese men attacking a Syrian refugee has sparked criticism

Lebanese security forces have detained a group of men who physically and verbally assaulted a Syrian refugee.

A video showing the attack – widely shared on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter – prompted a social media outcry.

During the beating, the men are heard shouting expletives at a refugee named Uklah. They demand he praises the Lebanese army and curses the so-called Islamic State group (IS) and all the Syrian people. Uklah is identified as a native of Deir al-Zour, an eastern province in Syria, mostly under IS control.

The men are also shown kicking Uklah as he lies on the ground, begging them to cease.

A voice note calling on Lebanese to “beat Syrians” was also shared on WhatsApp, according to journalist and blogger Kareem Chehayeb.

Lebanese Facebook user Charbel T Abou Zeid said the attack was a “reaction” while Kristel Aoun said “it’s a normal response to videos made by Syrians abroad cursing Lebanese”.

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@nasseryassin

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Translation: “For months we’ve been warning about racist rhetoric against Syrian refugees that would lead to an explosion of violence. Now we’re seeing the worst of it.”

The attack occurred ahead of a protest in solidarity with Syrian refugees planned for 18 July but which was cancelled due to threats. The Lebanese government subsequently banned all protests in the country, citing security reasons.

While some people online rallied behind the attackers, others labelled their acts as “racist”.

Tension has heightened around Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who account for an estimated one in four people in the country. The Lebanese president has said that the country “can no longer carry the burden” of refugees while denouncing “hate and incitement”.

Earlier this month, four Syrians died in custody – after being tortured by Lebanese soldiers, reported Middle East Eye – following army raids on refugee camps in Arsal, in the country’s east. A probe has since been ordered into their deaths.

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are reported to be preparing an operation in the same area as Arsal, close to the Syrian border, to force out militants using it as a base to fight in Syria.

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Facebook user Roro Berjawi expressed support for the men beating the refugee saying Lebanon had “suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Syrian government,” referencing the decades-long presence of Syrian troops in the country until their full withdrawal in 2005 after former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

The men in the video also pressed Uklah on whether he was to attend a planned, then cancelled, sit-in protest organised by the Socialist Forum and other activists which has been accused of protesting against the army.

Commenting on the attack, Gisele Tannoury tweeted: “Should we forgive the refugees who cursed the army? Has anyone caught them or are we forgiving them because our humanity is overtaking national interest?”

But many Lebanese also used social media to decry the attack, using the Arabic-language hashtag #No_to_racism.

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A professor who has tried to counter some perceptions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon tweeted that the “vast majority (83%) of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon rent houses”, contributing to the economy.

Several also re-circulated old banners which read: “Welcome to Syrian refugees and workers in Lebanon. We are sorry for what the racists among us commit.”

“I am against racism, injustice and violence of all kinds. There is absolutely no justification,” one Twitter user said.

Wassim Haffar also tweeted: “This is disgraceful and disgusting to watch! I’m so ashamed!!”

Another Twitter user continued: “Lebanese should be renouncing racism given so many of them live abroad.”

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