BEIRUT – Lebanon's military on Saturday dismissed allegations of abuse against hundreds of Syrian detainees in a security sweep at a refugee settlement, saying the mass detentions were necessary to combat terrorism.
The military official said the detention of 355 Syrians "is not a directed aggression against anyone," and that not all would be charged with terrorism. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Five suicide bombers blew themselves up Friday during military raids in two refugee settlements in Arsal, near the border with Syria. One of them detonated his payload among a Syrian refugee family, killing a girl. Another wounded three soldiers, leaving two of them in critical condition, the official said. During the early Friday raid attackers also tossed explosives at the troops.
The subsequent security sweep sparked accusations of abuse, particularly after pictures surfaced of detainees flat on the ground with their hands bound as Lebanese soldiers stood over them.
The official said the raids on the two settlements in Arsal came after tips about the presence of explosives and a plot to carry out attacks in Lebanon.
The Syrian opposition in exile, the Syrian Coalition, said in a statement Saturday that the military raid also resulted in the death of a number of refugees, but it provided no details. It said it holds the Lebanese authorities responsible for the safety of Syrian refugees, which it added are demanding international protection in Lebanon.
Lebanon, of 4.5 million people, has over 1 million registered Syrian refugees. The coalition said representatives of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon have demanded the establishment of safe areas near the Syrian-Lebanese border off limits to the Syrian government.
"Refugees were humiliated and treated as hostages by the Lebanese army and the Hezbollah militias," the coalition said.
Hezbollah, the powerful militia in Lebanon, has fighters in Syria backing the Syrian government against rebels and Islamic militants.
The military official rebuffed accusations of abuse.
"The reaction should be to question how a refugee camp turned into a refuge for terrorists," the official said. He said no women or children were detained and that none were deprived of food or drink. He said interrogations are underway and that those not connected to the attacks would be released.
Lebanese troops have clashed with militants near the Syrian border on a number of occasions in recent years. Arsal and the surrounding area was the scene of a major cross-border attack in 2014, when a number of Lebanese soldiers were abducted and killed.
On Saturday, the military said it arrested one of those involved in 2014 attack in Arsal, Syrian national Ahmed Khaled Diab, who confessed to killing a Lebanese soldier.