Skip to main content

Lebanon: Government threatens Syrian refugee crackdown after killing of official

Pascal Sleiman was kidnapped and killed by what Lebanese officials say was a Syrian gang on Sunday
Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi speaks during a press conference about the killing of a local politician that shook the country, Beirut, 9 April 2024 (AFP)

The Lebanese government has threatened a crackdown on Syrian refugees in the country after a party official was abducted and killed by Syrians, causing widespread uproar.

Pascal Sleiman, a coordinator in the Byblos area north of Beirut for the right-wing Lebanese Forces, was kidnapped on Sunday. According to the Lebanese army, he was killed in a carjacking by gang members, who took his body north to Syria.

A spokesperson for the Lebanese Forces, a party opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese allies Hezbollah, said they would consider Sleiman's death a "political assassination until proven otherwise" and blamed Hezbollah for allowing such gangs to thrive.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that his "country cannot withstand problems and sectarian strife and said that the security forces had been instructed "to strictly enforce Lebanese laws on Syrian refugees".

"We will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with [Syrians] residing in Lebanon illegally," he told reporters after a meeting about Sleiman's killing.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


He also urged people to stop renting apartments informally to Syrians and mentioned a need for "limiting the presence of Syrians" in the country, without elaborating.

Hezbollah head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address on Monday Sleiman's killing "had nothing to do with politics, and has nothing to do with Hezbollah".

Many Lebanese, including politicians, have long pushed for Syrians to be returned to their country, blaming them for exacerbating Lebanon's myriad of crises.

Within hours of the Lebanese army's Monday statement accusing a group of Syrians, angry crowds gathered in northern Lebanon near Sleiman's hometown and in Beirut.

Cars with Syrian licence plates and motorcyclists thought to be Syrians were attacked by Lebanese men, and homes where Syrians were thought to be living were raided, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib called the number of Syrians a "problem" during a trip to Greece.

"We have 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a country of five million, and half a million Palestinians," he told reporters.

The incident has added to fears of civil breakdown and violence in Lebanon, particularly as Israel continues to strike targets in the south.

Israel has exchanged fire with Hezbollah almost daily in the aftermath of 7 October, prompting fears of a regional war.

The hostilities have so far killed at least 347 people, most of them Hezbollah fighters, alongside at least 68 civilians, according to a tally by AFP.

Hezbollah attacks have killed 10 Israeli soldiers and eight civilians, according to the Israeli army.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.