The Lebanese army entered an apartment rented by mostly Syrian workers in the Beirut neighborhood of Jeitawi on Sunday night, beating them for hours. Four people had to be treated in hospitals, while seven Sudanese men who were in Lebanon illegally were detained.
As NOW reporters looked on from an adjacent balcony, Lebanese army soldiers could be seen rounding up the Syrians and beating them with sticks and belts. At one point the Syrians were sent into the courtyard of the building. Afterward, they were forced to run up the staircase of the building one after the other. There, four men in civilian clothes waited for them, punching them in their faces and on their heads.
Once they were taken to the roof of the building, the Syrians were forced to kneel down, hands behind their backs, before being beaten again. Others were kicked in the abdomen while lying on the floor. The sound of objects hitting bodies and subsequent screams and moans could be heard across the street. The operation lasted for about four hours.
The soldiers, apparently belonging to the army’s Special Forces, yelled at people in surrounding buildings not to watch.
When NOW approached the building this morning, two Syrians who were present last night agreed to speak to reporters at a nearby park. There, nervously glancing over their shoulders, they said that “There is still an intelligence officer in the building.”
One of the Syrians interviewed had a plate-sized bruise on his back. “We were sitting in our rooms, when they stormed in and started hitting us,” he told NOW. “They didn’t say why, they just yelled ‘Watan! Watan!’ [State! State!].”
“We are here legally,” he added, producing his immigration card with a visa valid until 2013. “And most of us have jobs. I work in a supermarket every day.”
According to the two Syrians, seven Sudanese men who were in the apartment at the time of the raid were arrested, as they had no valid visas.
The soldiers warned the men not to talk to the press. According to the two Syrian men interviewed, shortly after the operation a man approached the house, saying that he was a journalist with Voice of Lebanon radio station and began asking questions. Minutes later, the intelligence officer told the Syrian man, “Didn’t we tell you not to talk to the media?”
The reasons behind the operation remain unclear. A military spokesmen contacted by NOW declined to comment.
A man who lives in the area complained to NOW this morning that the Syrians “Come from rural areas and don’t know how to behave themselves,” and that they were “harassing girls and women.” Locals have filed similar complaints with police in the past.
Last Monday, October 1, a similar incident happened close to Sassine Square. Several army vehicles and a car with tinted windows blocked off the street surrounding a construction site, people living in the area reported.
“There are Syrians working and sleeping in the building,” an onlooker who preferred to remain anonymous said. “We could hear wailing from inside the construction site. At one point they walked a man out of the building, hands tied behind his back, as a soldier kicked him in the legs. A second one was slapped while being walked to the car with tinted windows.”
Nadim Houry, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa, arrived at the scene of the latest incident around midnight Sunday. “There is a disturbing pattern of Lebanese army forces violently going against migrants,” he told NOW, noting another incident last month in Bourj Hammoud.
“It’s troubling to see elite forces being deployed in residential areas in such a secretive manner,” Houry added. “Some of the Syrians had been living here for years, and there were obviously no arrest warrants.”
The two Syrian men from the building said they would go into hiding after their conversations with NOW, fearing repercussions.