Unrest in Syria has spread to border areas with Lebanon, expanding the arena of the conflict, due to the geographical proximity and demographic overlap between the two countries.
The spread of the conflict to the Syrian province of Homs and the outbreak of clashes between the Syrian army and residents of Talkalakh, a city near the Lebanese border, drove many Syrian families to cross over earlier this month. Many attempted to enter Lebanon via the Al-Bukaia unofficial crossing which links the countries by means of an old bridge.
The Syrian army attempt's to block the refugees' escape on May 15th, however, resulted in casualties and injuries. The Lebanese army said that "stray bullets" from machineguns fired in the Talkalakh area wounded one soldier.
The incident prompted the Lebanese army to shut down the Al-Bukaia crossing with barbed wire the next day, as well as boost its deployment in the area.
The swelling number of displaced Syrians fleeing to the area of Wadi Khaled in Akkar, in north Lebanon, prompted the head of the caretaker government, Saad Hariri, to demand action by relevant authorities to provide them with assistance.
Lebanese citizens in the Wadi Khaled region have kinship ties to Syrians in Talkalakh. Wadi Khaled comprises 27 villages, and its territories stretch seven kilometres along the border with Syria, punctuated by four illegal crossings.
The Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs told Al-Shorfa that the ministry operates centres in the border areas that provide citizens with social services, particularly medical services.
The ministry pointed out that the material assistance in food and clothing is provided by the government's High Relief Commission (HRC), and stated that the number of displaced Syrians in Lebanon reported by the media is inflated. The number does not exceed a thousand refugees, the ministry said.
Fadi Fawaz, Hariri's development adviser, told Al-Shorfa that it was difficult to accurately determine the number of displaced persons due to the fact that a large portion of them have sought refuge in homes of relatives or acquaintances.
Fawaz co-ordinates the work of three organizations concerned with securing and distributing aid, namely the UNRWA, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the HRC.
He said that he had established two relief and assistance centres in Wadi Khaled and that "activity will continue as long as there are displaced persons."
The elders and people of the Wadi Khaled region agreed at a meeting on Monday (May 16th) that accommodating the displaced is a duty mandated by kinship, brotherhood, and intermarriage between the two peoples.
Haj Amer Mohammed, a tribe elder in Wadi Khaled who opened his house to 25 displaced Syrians, told Al-Shorfa, "Accommodating displaced Syrians comes naturally to us because our customs and traditions require us to lend assistance to those who need it, especially that there is an affinity and kinship between us and that they hosted Lebanese refugees during the 2006 war."
Haj Amer said that the houses of Wadi Khaled will remain open to the displaced and that the people of northern Lebanon are providing the needed assistance alongside that provided by the HRC and the UNRWA.
Michael Williams, the United Nation's special envoy to Lebanon, announced on Monday that the organisation is closely monitoring developments on the northern border of Lebanon, declaring its readiness to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees in the region.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami, commented on the influx of Syrians into Lebanon across the northern border on Tuesday, saying, "We have historical ties of brotherhood and friendship with Syria", adding that "the security of Syria stems from Lebanon's security, and vice versa."
The March 14 Forces supported relief efforts for the displaced, warning at the same time against "any attempt to make Lebanese territory an arena for the Syrian crisis, and any attempt by the Syrian [authorities] to overstep the Lebanese border".
In a statement issued on Wednesday by its General Secretariat, the March 14 Forces said that "care must be provided to the displaced, as they are now in the custody of the Lebanese state."