By Erika Solomon and Laila Bassam
BEIRUT, July 11 (Reuters) - Lebanon's relief agency has suspended funding treatment for wounded Syrians who cross into the country, officials said on Thursday, citing rapidly rising costs as the conflict over the border escalates.
Local aid and medical workers said Lebanese hospitals would close their doors to wounded Syrians who were not in a critical condition. They have yet to determine where the wounded would be taken instead or who would pay for them.
The United Nations Higher Council for Refugees (UNHCR) says some 30,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon to flee the fighting in the 16-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
The head of Lebanon's Higher Relief Council (HRC), Ibrahim Bashir, said the cost of providing medical care for Syrians had ballooned to over $1 million a month from around $200,000 a few months ago.
Activists said the decision would endanger Syrians wounded in the conflict, who are smuggled into neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Turkey for fear of retribution or arrest if they go to state hospitals in Syria.
"How is this the fault of a Syrian whose arm has been cut off, or whose leg is bleeding? If they don't take our wounded we'll take them out into the streets and protest," said Syrian activist Khaled Abu Raed, who heads a relief group for Syrian refugees in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli.
The HRC and overseeing minister Wael Abu Faour, of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said costs being were inflated by Syrians seeking secondary care such as cancer and diabetes treatment.
"Treatment will be suspended until a new system can be put in place to prevent exploitation," Abu Faour said. "There are some people who claim they are displaced but they are not, and there is bad administration."
"WHO WILL HELP US?"
The director of Lebanon's government hospital in Tripoli said life-or-death cases would not be ignored.
"If it is very, very serious, we would have to accept the case and figure out how to pay for it later," said Nasir Adra.
An average of 10 wounded Syrians are smuggled across the border each week, many of them critical. Activist Abu Raed said there were currently 250 wounded Syrians in Lebanese hospitals.
"This is a political decision by the Lebanese government," he said. "Syria is in a state of war, who will help us? In cases of war, neighbouring countries always help the wounded."
Lebanon, which is still recovering from its bloody 1975-1990 civil war, has been wary of getting dragged into Syria's conflict. Tensions have been high between pro- and anti-Assad groups and have sometimes sparked deadly clashes.
HRC head Bashir said the decision was purely financial. "The economic situation is very difficult," he said. "When the costs reach $1 million a month, it becomes painful for us."
He said the group would resume healthcare once a new budget and new standards for treatment could be agreed by the government. But the issue could be mired in dispute at parliament, where the past sessions have been boycotted or dismissed over political squabbles.
The UNHCR and other relief agencies would try to pay for treating emergency cases, said spokeswoman Dana Sleiman, but that without more funding, they would have trouble covering costs for the growing number of Syrians in Lebanon.
"In addition to providing shelter, education and other things, our current budget constraints do not allow us to cover more," she said. "We're really hoping the situation gets resolved somehow." (Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Alison Williams)
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS