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Boat sinking survivors blame Lebanon navy

TRIPOLI, LEBANON (AP) – Survivors of a doomed migrant boat blamed the Lebanese navy on Sunday for sinking it, saying a naval vessel rammed the packed ship while trying to force it back to shore.

Meanwhile the death toll of Saturday night’s disaster rose to seven, with state media reporting the recovery of a body of a man from Tripoli. The incident was the latest in a growing trend involving mostly Lebanese and Syrians trying to travel to Europe from Lebanon in search of better lives.

Angry residents attacked a main army checkpoint in Tripoli earlier in the day, throwing stones at troops who responded by firing into the air.

Some shops closed as angry men blocked several streets in Tripoli, Lebanon’s most impoverished city. There were no reports of injuries.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati declared a day of national mourning yesterday.

Lebanese soldiers try to calm an angry relative of one of the missing migrants in Tripoli, north Lebanon. PHOTO: AP

“It is appalling to see deprivation still drives people to take these dangerous trips across the seas,” tweeted Lebanon’s United Nations humanitarian coordinator Najat Rochdi. Several of the rescued were treated on the spot while others were taken to nearby hospitals. One person was detained on suspicion of being a smuggler involved in organising the journey, the military said.

Search operations began on Saturday night after the boat, apparently heading to Europe, sank shortly after leaving the coastal Lebanese town of Qalamoun. For many years Lebanon was a country that took in refugees, but since the country’s economic meltdown began in October 2019, hundreds of people have left on boats hoping for a better life in Europe.

Migrants from Lebanon paid thousands of dollars to smugglers to take them to Europe.

Hundreds have made it to Europe, while others have been stopped and forced to return home by the Lebanese navy.

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