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Lebanon asks army to probe Syrian detainee deaths

By AFP - Jul 06,2017 - Last updated at Jul 06,2017

United Nations teams and Lebanese Red Cross staff build a tent within the infrastructure works at the Qob Elias refugee camp after a big fire broke out on Sunday in Beqaa, Lebanon (Anadolu Agency photo)

BEIRUT — Lebanon's government called Thursday for the military to investigate the deaths of four Syrians arrested after Lebanese army raids last week on a refugee camp in the country's northeast.

The army announced the deaths this week, saying the four men had pre-existing medical conditions, but rights groups urged an independent investigation after allegations that the detainees had been tortured to death.

Lebanon's Human Rights Minister Ayman Chouceir, quoted by the official National News Agency, said an investigation would help to "preserve the image of the army and prevent malicious rumours".

"We ask the competent military command and judiciary to open a transparent investigation into all the recently circulated photographs and news about the recent detention operation in Arsal and the reasons for the deaths of several detainees," he said.

"The government's decision to ask the army to investigate the circumstances of the detainee deaths is only evidence of efforts to ensure transparency and clarify the matter for the public," Chouceir added.

The men were arrested in the wake of army raids on two refugee camps near Arsal on Friday that were met with a string of suicide attacks and grenades.

The attacks killed a girl and wounded seven Lebanese soldiers and the army subsequently arrested dozens of people, including the four men whose deaths were announced on Tuesday.

The army said the detainees "were found to be suffering from chronic health problems that were activated as a result of weather conditions".

 The men were transferred to hospitals but their conditions worsened and they later died, the army statement added.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Lebanese NGO LIFE called for a full investigation to determine the circumstances behind the four deaths.

"We have previously documented accounts from individuals tortured or abused in the custody of army personnel. We are continuing to urge that these allegations be taken seriously," said Lama Fakih, HRW's deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa.

Lebanon is home to more than a million refugees fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Syria, many of whom live in informal tent settlements.

In August 2014, the army clashed with fighters in the Arsal region and militants kidnapped 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen as they withdrew back along the border.

After long negotiations, 16 of the kidnapped men were released in December 2015 in exchange for extremist prisoners held in Lebanese jails.

 

The extremists executed four of their hostages while a fifth died of wounds he suffered in the initial Arsal clashes, leaving nine members of Lebanon's security forces still in their hands.

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