Hundreds of Syrians flee as refugee camp torched in Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrians flee as refugee camp torched in Lebanon
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Syrian refugees salvage belongings from the wreckage of their shelters at a camp set on fire overnight in the northern Lebanese town of Bhanine on December 27, 2020, following a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family. (AFP)
Hundreds of Syrians flee as refugee camp torched in Lebanon
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Syrian refugees salvage belongings from the wreckage of their shelters at a camp set on fire overnight in the northern Lebanese town of Bhanine on December 27, 2020, following a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family. (AFP)
Hundreds of Syrians flee as refugee camp torched in Lebanon
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An aerial view taken on December 26, 2020, shows a camp for the internally displaced people in the town Maarrat Misrin in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. (AFP)
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Updated 28 December 2020

Hundreds of Syrians flee as refugee camp torched in Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrians flee as refugee camp torched in Lebanon
  • KSrelief steps in to help after families forced to shelter in orchards
  • Lebanon says it hosts some 1.5 million Syrians

BEIRUT: More than 300 Syrian refugees, including 50 children, were forced to flee after their informal camp in northern Lebanon was set ablaze and burnt to the ground early on Sunday.

Firefighters fought the blaze for more than four hours but were unable to save any of the 100 tents or equipment in the camp.

The fire followed a fight between a Lebanese family and Syrians living in the camp in Bhannine in the Al-Miniyeh district, about 100 km from Beirut, the Lebanese army said.

Troops later carried out raids and arrested two Lebanese men and six Syrians as part of the investigation. Military weapons and ammunition were seized during the raids and further arrests were expected.

“Lebanese youths fired in the air and intentionally set fire to Syrian refugee tents after the dispute,” the Lebanese army command said.

Syrian refugees returned to the site later on Sunday as they searched for household items and personal belongings to salvage.

A number of refugees said that a group of Lebanese men — at least one of whom was armed— set fire to the tents after a dispute with Syrian youths led to violence.

Refugees were forced to huddle on a nearby road until 3 a.m. without shelter after the blaze.

FASTFACT

The fire followed a fight between a Lebanese family and Syrians living in the camp in Bhannine in the Al-Miniyeh district, about 100 km from Beirut, according to the Lebanese army.

Members of the Lebanese Civil Defense managed after hours of hard work to put out the fire. No casualties were reported.

Tawfiq Hamed, coordinator of the Future Movement in Al-Miniyeh, told Arab News that a dispute over the payment of wages to Syrian workers harvesting oranges had developed into a fight.

A crisis cell was formed to aid the refugees after many fled in fear of reprisals, spending the night in nearby orchards without food, water or blankets.

Several Lebanese residents in surrounding areas volunteered to host the Syrian refugees.

Mustafa Wehbe, Bhannine’s mayor, said: “The attackers blocked the front and back entrances to the camp, and cut the electrical wires feeding it before they set it on fire. People cried for help and fled, running barefoot between the flames, leaving their belongings behind. Families were separated (during the incident).”

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) stepped in to help the refugees, restore the camp and find temporary housing.

The Syrian refugees in Lebanon are guests, and we must help and support them until they return to their country.

Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Grand mufti, Lebanon

The attack brought widespread condemnation. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian described it as “a heinous crime” and said the perpetrators “deserve severe punishment for this disgraceful act against humanity.”

Derian said that “the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are guests, and we must help and support them until they return to their country.”

He called on security forces to find the attackers and “stop the strife between siblings in the region.”

Ramzi Zohra, the regional governor, said that the attack “is condemned by everyone.”

The Progressive Socialist Party called on the security services to protect the region against such incidents, while the Islamic Group in the North desacriubed the attack as “a violation of rights, an affront and a major crime.”

Violent clashes between Syrian workers and Lebanese also took place in the northern town of Bcharre a month ago, leading to the death of a Lebanese man, Joseph Touq, 28. A Syrian worker later surrendered to security services, but relatives of the victim threatened workers in the area and set fire to their houses.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor at the time condemned “collective punishment against Syrian refugees.”


Crypto-miners take down Iran electric grids, prompting crackdown

Cryptocurrency mining is a process in which specialized computers complete progressively more difficult calculations to verify transactions and thereby produce cryptocurrencies, the most popular of which is Bitcoin. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Cryptocurrency mining is a process in which specialized computers complete progressively more difficult calculations to verify transactions and thereby produce cryptocurrencies, the most popular of which is Bitcoin. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 19 January 2021

Crypto-miners take down Iran electric grids, prompting crackdown

Cryptocurrency mining is a process in which specialized computers complete progressively more difficult calculations to verify transactions and thereby produce cryptocurrencies, the most popular of which is Bitcoin. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Multiple cities have experienced blackouts and a halt to industrial work in recent weeks
  • Tehran offering $4,750 reward for informants who expose illegal cryptocurrency mining operations

LONDON: Iran has ordered a crackdown on cryptocurrency miners after blackouts in major cities were attributed to the excess toll the activity takes on the energy grid.

Parts of Tehran, as well as Mashhad and Tabriz, have experienced repeated blackouts in recent weeks, temporarily halting production lines and plunging the cities into darkness.

State electricity company Tavanir said it had temporarily halted all known crypto-mining operations, including a Chinese-Iranian mine in Rafsanjan that is reported to have been consuming 175 megawatt hours — enough electricity to power an average Western home for 17 years.

Cryptocurrency mining is a process in which specialized computers complete progressively more difficult calculations to verify transactions and thereby produce cryptocurrencies, the most popular of which is Bitcoin.

The process is extremely energy intensive, meaning that cryptocurrency mining is most profitable in locations with cheap energy.

Because of significant state subsidies and excess fuel reserves held by Iran due to sanctions, oil-fueled electricity is very cheap in the country — less than 1 cent per kilowatt hour.

This has massively fueled production of cryptocurrencies in Iran, to the extent that in 2020, the country was responsible for 8 percent of all the world’s Bitcoin production.

The effect of the crypto-mining on Iran’s grids has become such a problem that the government is now offering a $4,750 reward for tips on illegal crypto-mining locations.

At $35,000 each, the price of Bitcoin has reached record levels in recent weeks, making mining of the currency particularly attractive in a place with few economic opportunities such as Iran.

The appeal of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is also relevant for states and groups that operate on the fringes of the global economy, such as Iran, Venezuela and North Korea, as well as terrorist groups.

Bitcoins can be traded outside the traditional banking system, allowing Iran to circumvent economic sanctions on its financial sectors, and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Daesh to trade on the black market anonymously.

In 2019, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announced that his country would launch its own cryptocurrency to circumvent US sanctions, but little else is known about the project.

Despite the difficulty in tracing cryptocurrency transactions, in 2018 the US sanctioned two Iranians who had been converting cryptocurrency into Iranian rials on behalf of hackers who had targeted American corporations, hospitals, universities and government agencies.