Prisoners Set Fire to Cells in Zahle Prison, Lebanon: Three Dead, 16 Injured
A tragic incident unfolded on Friday in Zahle prison, located in eastern Lebanon, as three prisoners lost their lives and 16 others sustained injuries when inmates set fire to their cells. The incident occurred after an apparent escape attempt was discovered by prison guards.
Discovery of Escape Attempt Leads to Inmate Anger
According to the police, the blaze originated in several cells on the second floor of the main prison building after guards stumbled upon a hole that was being dug as part of a planned tunnel. In response to the discovery, prisoners attempted to take several security staff members hostage before resorting to setting fire to mattresses and blankets in their cells.
Inmates Release Staff as Fire Spreads
As the fire rapidly spread to the upper floors of the prison building, the prisoners were compelled to release the staff members they had taken hostage. Civil defense teams were immediately summoned to the scene to extinguish the fire.
Casualties and Injuries
Tragically, three inmates lost their lives due to smoke inhalation, while several others were treated for minor injuries and breathing difficulties. Zahle prison, one of Lebanon’s largest penitentiaries, currently houses 620 inmates. Lawyer and prison activist Rabih Qais highlighted that overcrowding is a persistent issue in Zahle, as well as in other Lebanese prisons. He further revealed that over 60 percent of the prison population consists of Syrian or other non-Lebanese nationals.
Communication Cut Off, Concerns Raised
Ashraf Al-Moussawi, another lawyer, expressed concerns about the lack of communication with the prison, making it difficult to ascertain the exact details of the situation. However, he noted that prisoners have frequently voiced complaints about overcrowding and delays in their trials.
Lebanese Troops Deployed for Assistance
In response to the incident, Lebanese troops were dispatched to Zahle prison. Bassam Mawlawi, the caretaker interior minister, called on Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun to reinforce the civil defense units working to extinguish the fire and evacuate the prisoners.
Families Gather Outside Prison
As the Civil Defense and Red Cross vehicles arrived at the scene, families of the prisoners gathered outside the prison anxiously awaiting updates. Fortunately, no injuries were reported among the prison security staff.
The tragic incident at Zahle prison in Lebanon serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the country’s correctional facilities. Overcrowding and delays in the judicial process have been persistent issues, leading to frustration among inmates. It is crucial for authorities to address these concerns and work towards improving the conditions within prisons to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. The loss of lives and injuries suffered by inmates highlight the urgent need for reforms in Lebanon’s prison system.