BEIRUT (AFP): Lebanon’s army said it disrupted a smuggling operation on Friday that saw more than 100 migrants from neighbouring Syria attempting to leave the country by sea.
Naval forces thwarted “a people-smuggling operation on a boat carrying 110 people”, two of them Lebanese and the rest Syrian nationals, an army statement said.
The boat was intercepted off the northern city of Tripoli, it added, without saying where the vessel was headed.
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees leaving by boat from Lebanon are generally seeking a better life in Europe, and often head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, less than 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.
Authorities in Lebanon say the country hosts around two million Syrians, while some 800,000 are registered with the United Nations — the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests.
Lebanon’s economy collapsed in late 2019, turning the country into a launchpad for migrants, and authorities often announce they have thwarted smuggling operations by sea, or the arrest of both smugglers and would-be migrants.
The interception comes amid weeks of conflict between Israel and militants from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza, with exchanges of fire and skirmishes also across the Lebanon-Israel border, mainly between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas.