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UN peacekeepers rescue 36 at sea off Lebanon

By AFP - Sep 14,2020 - Last updated at Sep 14,2020

BEIRUT — A UN peacekeeping force rescued 36 people, mostly Syrians, and recovered the body of a passenger from a boat off Lebanon on Monday, the force and the UN refugee agency said.

The destination of the boat was not immediately clear, but Lebanon and neighbouring Cyprus have reported several migrant vessels trying to leave the Middle Eastern country in past weeks.

A UNIFIL "ship located at sea outside Lebanese territorial waters a boat with 37 people inside. Unfortunately, one of them had already passed away," it said in a statement, without providing details on the cause.

It said the survivors were given medical treatment on board the UNIFIL ship.

A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency said 25 of them were Syrians, eight Lebanese and the remaining three of other nationalities.

"They arrived this afternoon at the port of Beirut and were taken in charge by the Lebanese Red Cross, UNHCR and the Lebanese authorities," UNHCR's Lisa Abou Khaled said.

"Some were transferred to hospital, while we distributed food, water and clothes" to the others, she added.

The Lebanese army on September 8 said it had prevented a group of Syrians and Lebanese from illegally leaving by sea from the northern city of Tripoli.

Cyprus the day before had said it would send a team to Lebanon to help authorities stop boats with migrants heading for the Mediterranean island just 160 kilometres away.

At least five boats carrying over 150 migrants had been spotted off the coast of the tourist island in previous days.

Lebanon, which hosts around 1.5 million people displaced from war-torn Syria next door, is in the grips of its worst economic crisis in decades.

The financial crunch has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and a massive blast at the Beirut port last month that killed more than 190 people and ravaged large parts of the capital.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to patrol the border between Lebanon and Israel which remain technically at war.

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