Boy drowns as Syrian refugee boat sinks off coast of Lebanon

Nick Charity
AFP/Getty Images

A boy has drowned after a boat carrying Syrian refugees sank off the coast of Lebanon today.

Some 39 Syrian refugees attempting to make an illegal crossing to Cyprus had to rescued by the Lebanese military - and there are reports one young boy drowned in the waters.

Security sources said it appeared to be the first time in almost a year that a group of refugees had tried to get to Europe by boat from Lebanon, where Syrian refugees account for roughly a quarter of the population.

Cyprus is around 180 km (110 miles) from the coast of northern Lebanon. Three more of the people on the boat were in a serious condition in hospital, the sources said.

Syrians chant slogans and wave flags of the opposition and of Turkey during demonstration against the Assad regime yesterday, in the rebel-held town of Hazzanu, northwest of Idlib. (AFP/Getty/Aeref Watad)

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says there are close to 1 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The Lebanese government puts the number at 1.5 million.

As Syrian forces and their allies have retaken more territory in Syria, Lebanon’s president and other politicians have called for refugees to go back to areas where fighting is over before a deal is reached to end the civil war.

A man carries a wounded child after a car bombing in Idlib in May. The city has been devastated by siege, leading to international calls for a ceasefire to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Russia has granted rebels an ultimatum to leave the city or face further conflict. (AFP/Getty/Omar Haj Kadour)

Some refugees have trickled back to Syria in recent months in what the Lebanese authorities have described as voluntary returns coordinated with the Syrian government.

Russia's foreign ministry called for a repatriation of Syrian civilians from Lebanon in July, even as civil war rages on.

The calls were made two days after a spate of ISIS suicide bomb attacks around Sweida in southern Syria, killing a total of 246 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met earlier this month to arrange a ceasefire between their warring allies on either side of the conflict in a hope of preventing further devastation in the city of Idlib. (AFP/Getty/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The bombings followed reports that Assad's regime had cleared most of the south of the country- and Syria is in a state of relative piece for the time being after Russia and Turkey agreed on a ceasefire to stifle an emerging humanitarian crisis in the city of Idlib.

Putin and Erdogan offered an escape corridor for "rebels" who want to put down their arms, but the Wahhabi militia in control of the city have said they will kill anyone trying to leave.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a visit to Beirut last month that refugees were concerned about issues including the lack of infrastructure and fear of retribution and military conscription if there were to return to their homes.

For larger numbers to decide to go back, he said, more confidence must be created by addressing these issues and UNHCR should have a presence in areas of return, according to a statement on UNHCR's website.

Reporting by Reuters.