Lebanon's president says Syrian refugees must return home

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 26 September 2017
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Lebanon's president says Syrian refugees must return home

PARIS: Lebanese President Michel Aoun said he wanted some 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in his country to henceforth start returning to their homes, voluntarily or not.
Aoun, in a state visit to France, said UN assistance given to aid Syrian refugees in “camps of misery” in Lebanon would be better used to return them to their country “from now on.”
“We don’t want to wait for their voluntary return,” Aoun insisted, speaking at the Elysee Palace alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.
Aoun said that most of the Syrian regions from which the refugees hail are “now secure.”
Macron distanced himself from his counterpart’s viewpoint, saying that the absence of a political solution in Syria prevents refugees from returning back home permanently.
In a separate development, hundreds of Lebanese civil servants protested in front of the government’s capital building Tuesday, on the second day of strikes demanding pay in line with a stalled wage hike.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet, which approved the wage hike earlier this summer, put off any decrees until Thursday, when it will reconvene with President Aoun to discuss the matter.
The Union Coordination Committee vowed to extend its strike through Thursday after forcing government offices and many schools to stay closed through the start of the week.
“We can’t make a dignified living on our salaries,” said Hoda Ghazi, a teacher at the protest outside the government’s Grand Serail building. “We’re not able to raise this generation properly.”
Public school teachers have not seen a cost of living increase or salary hike since 2012, according to Mahmoud Haidar, a former board member of the UCC.
The wage hike was supposed to be financed by an unpopular tax bill passed this summer.
Opposition parties and unions have demanded that politicians instead recover revenues by combatting corruption.
Lebanon’s top court ruled the new tax law unconstitutional last week because it was passed without a budget.
The decision left the government scrambling for ways to finance the wage bill, costing an estimated $800 million, as public servants expected to see raises this month.
Lebanon has been unable to agree on a state budget since 2005, financing itself instead through ad hoc budgetary measures. Its public debt stands near 150 percent of national income, according to the Ministry of Finance, making Lebanon one of the most indebted nations globally.
Poultry workers were also present at Tuesday’s demonstration, demanding higher tariffs on imports of frozen chicken.


Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”