Bilal Hussein / AP
The country’s health minister said on Friday the country’s health minister said at least 77 people were killed when a boat carrying migrants sank off the coast of Syria this week, amid fears of a deadly toll. the dead could be much higher.
The incident is the most serious to date as large numbers of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians are trying to flee Lebanon affected by crisis by sea for a better future in Europe. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs while the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, erasing the purchasing power of thousands of families currently living in extreme poverty.
Syrian authorities say relatives of the victims have begun crossing the border from Lebanon into Syria to help identify their loved ones and retrieve their bodies. The ship left Lebanon on Tuesday and news of what happened first began to emerge on Thursday afternoon. The boat was carrying Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians.
Syrian state television quoted Health Minister Mohammed Hassan Ghabbash as saying 20 people had been rescued and were being treated at al-Basel hospital in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus. He added that health authorities have been on alert since Thursday afternoon to help with search operations.
An official at al-Basel, speaking on condition of anonymity as required by law, told the Associated Press that eight of those rescued were in intensive care. The official also confirmed 77 deaths. There are conflicting reports about how many people were on board the ship when it sank, with some saying at least 120 people. Details about the ship, such as its size and capacity, are also unclear.
Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamie said the survivors included 12 Syrians, five Lebanese and three Palestinians. Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said eight bodies had been returned to Lebanon early Friday.
After sunset on Friday, the bodies of more victims, including two Palestinians, were taken to Lebanon. They were taken in seven ambulances and headed south from the Arida border crossing north of the city of Tripoli.
Earlier in the day, Tartus governor Abdul-Halim Khalil told government Radio Sham FM that a search was underway to find more bodies off the coast of his country. Khalil said the boat sank on Wednesday.
Syria’s state news agency SANA quoted a port official as saying 31 bodies had washed up on the shore while the rest were picked up by Syrian boats in a search operation that began on Thursday evening. .
Wissam Tellawi, one of the survivors being treated in al-Basel, has lost two daughters. His wife and two sons are still missing. The bodies of his two daughters, Mae and Maya, were taken to Lebanon early Friday and buried in their northern hometown of Qarqaf.
“He told me over the phone, ‘I’m fine,’ but the children were lost,” said Tellawi’s father, who identifies himself as Abu Mahmoud. The father told local Al-Jadeed TV that his son had given smugglers the family’s apartment in exchange for taking him and his family to Europe.
Lebanese army raids house of suspected smugglers
Following the disaster, the Lebanese military said on Friday it had stormed the homes of several suspected smugglers, detaining four people in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest and poorest northern city. Three others were detained in the nearby village of Deir Ammar.
The military said the suspects were involved in smuggling migrants by sea while others were planning to buy boats for the same reason.
Lebanon, – with a population of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees, has been in a severe economic crisis since the end of 2019 that has plunged more than three-quarters of its population into poverty.
The Lebanese economic crisis caused an exodus to Europe
For years it was a host country for refugees from Mideast wars and conflicts but the economic crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement, has dramatically changed that.
Prices have skyrocketed due to hyperinflation, forcing many to sell their belongings to pay smugglers to take them to Europe as the exodus has intensified in recent months.
In April, a boat carrying dozens of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians trying to emigrate by sea to Italy crashed more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Tripoli, following a confrontation with the Lebanese navy. Dozens of people were killed in the incident.
On Wednesday, Lebanese officials said the navy had rescued a boat carrying 55 migrants after it encountered technical problems about 11 kilometers (7 miles) off the northern Akkar coast. It said those rescued included two pregnant women and two children.