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Nearly a half of the several thousand Syrians who recently fled violence in the southwest, escaping to northern Lebanon, have returned to their homes in Syria, local residents said.

“Fifty percent of the Syrian families have gone back to their home town,” said a sheikh from the region who preferred anonymity. Relatives and friends in the Syrian town of Hadath, he added, had informed the asylum-seekers that the situation in their villages was quiet.

Dana Sleiman, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the situation in Syria’s Wadi Khaled region, where Hadath is located, was relatively calm.

“Though the state of affairs is serious, we do not consider it to be an emergency as of yet, because the number remains limited,” she said. “There is no major influx.”

A little over a month ago, Syrians, mostly women and children from towns such as Hadath, Arida and Tal Kallakh, began to trickle across the border into Lebanon, saying they were looking for a safe haven from what they say was a violent crackdown on their villages by the Syrian army.

A source said the sound of shelling was audible from the Lebanese side of the border two weeks ago. “Shabiha [the pro-government militia that has been cracking down on protesters] were raiding homes, coming in and arresting men, raping the women,” the source said. “We even saw them shoot an old woman in the foot.”

NGO Islamic Relief estimated that 6,000 fled into Lebanon. “They poured into north Lebanon… using illegal border crossings to escape the violence unleashed on protesters by security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad”. Most of them were being hosted in Akkar (northern Lebanon), mainly by relatives, thereby placing an additional burden on their already impoverished hosts.

“Most of the persons who have crossed the border in recent weeks are women and children,” the International Federation of the Red Crescent noted on 31 May. “Many of those who have crossed the border have come without any belongings. Most have found shelter with relatives or host families, and a small number are residing temporarily in a school in Tall Bire.”

The Lebanese Higher Relief Council, which is leading the response to the needs of the Syrians, said some 6,814 individuals had received some assistance.

The ongoing protests started in Syria in mid-March and are regularly crushed by the government. At least 1,100 people are estimated to have died, including more than 50 during protests after Friday prayers on 3 June. More than 10,000 have also been arrested, according to human rights observers.

On 4 June UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced alarm at the escalation of violence in Syria and called for an independent and transparent investigation into all the killings.

IRIN

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