The Lebanese army reported on Sunday that Lebanon conducted a rescue operation, saving over 50 individuals, primarily Syrians, from a sinking migrant boat off the nation’s northern coastline.
The military obtained “information about a vessel that was sinking off the coast of Tripoli while it was being used for illegal people smuggling,” the army said in a statement, referring to a city in north Lebanon.
Naval forces were able to “rescue 51 people aboard, including two Palestinians and 49 Syrians,” the statement added.
The Lebanese Red Cross helped provide assistance to those rescued, according to the statement, which did not specify where the boat was headed.
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees leaving by boat from Lebanon are generally seeking a better life in Europe, and often head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.
Lebanon hosts around two million Syrians, authorities say, while some 800,000 are registered with the United Nations — the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
Lebanon’s economy collapsed in late 2019, turning the country into a launchpad for migrants. Authorities often announce they have thwarted smuggling operations by sea, or the arrest of both smugglers and would-be migrants.
Lebanese nationals have also been making the treacherous voyage toward Europe alongside Syrians fleeing war and economic woes in their country, as well as Palestinian refugees.
On December 1, Lebanon’s army said it disrupted a smuggling operation that saw 110 people, mostly from Syria, attempting to leave the country by sea.
Sunday’s rescue comes amid weeks of conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with skirmishes also across the Lebanon-Israel border, mainly between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, a Hamas ally.