Hundreds of Syrians Cross Border as Gunfire Targets Jdeidet Yabous Polling Station
Unknown gunmen on Tuesday opened fire at a Syrian polling station in the Jdeidet Yabous area near the border with Lebanon, which witnessed huge gatherings of Syrians who flocked to vote in their country's presidential election that got underway on Tuesday.
“Sniper gunshots from al-Zabadani mountain are targeting the polling station in the border area of Jdeidet Yabous,” LBCI television reported.
The TV network aired footage of armed security personnel running near the station while journalists were asked to leave the area out of fear for their safety.
Meanwhile, al-Jadeed TV said “around 5,000 Syrian citizens entered Syria to cast their votes.”
According to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3), the Syrian interior ministry increased the ballot boxes at the Jdeidet Yabous polling station from six to 17 “due to the massive turnout.”
“The main entrance of the al-Masnaa border crossing was turned into a pedestrian pathway due to the severe traffic jam on the border,” the radio station added.
Quoting Lebanese General Security sources, Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said 6,628 voters had crossed into Syria until 12:00 p.m.
“5,519 voters crossed via al-Masnaa, 62 from al-Buqaiaa, 635 from the al-Abboudiyeh border crossing and 412 from the al-Arida border crossing,” the sources said.
Lebanon's National News Agency said the square and streets of the Bekaa town of Hermel witnessed mass rallies by Syrians residing in the region and preparing to vote in their country's polls.
It said security measures by the Lebanese Army “prevented voters from reaching the polling stations that were set up on the border with the towns of al-Qasr, Hawsh al-Sayyed Ali and al-Misherfeh.”
“But dozens managed to cross on foot through the side roads and neighboring groves,” NNA added.
The agency said some of them had arrived in the area at early dawn while others “slept in the open, awaiting the opening of the polling stations.”
Meanwhile, several people were injured when a Syrian bus carrying voters collided into security concrete blocks. The wounded were rushed to hospitals in the area.
In the North, around 800 Syrians crossed into their country through the al-Abboudiyeh border crossing, nearly 600 via the al-Arida crossing and some 200 through al-Buqaiaa, according to NNA.
Last Wednesday, tens of thousands of Syrians living in Lebanon flocked to their embassy in Yarze near Beirut to cast their vote in an election branded by the Syrian opposition and its backers as a "farce."
Two little-known candidates are facing Assad in the vote, which will only be held in regime-held territory and exclude refugees who fled Syria through unofficial crossings.
The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon rejected in a letter of protest recent measures taken by the Lebanese government against the Syrian refugees, As Safir newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq had announced Saturday that Syrian refugees in Lebanon will lose their status as such if they return home for a visit.
More than a million Syrians have fled their war-torn country for Lebanon in the past three years, according to the United Nations.
The refugee influx into Lebanon has burdened the country's weak economy, with politicians on all sides calling for measures to limit the flow.
Lebanon has not signed the Convention on Refugees, and refers to Syrians forced out of their country by war as "displaced."
The authorities say the actual number of Syrians in Lebanon is far higher than the nearly 1.1 million accounted for by UNHCR.
Lebanon has frequently complained it lacks the necessary resources to cope with them, and that the labor market is struggling to accommodate them.