Lebanon evicting Syrian refugees from towns, says rights group

In this April, 18, 2018 file photo, a Syrian displaced man who fled the war in Syria carries his belongings past Lebanese soldiers as he prepares to return to his village of Beit Jinn in Syria, near the Lebanese-Syrian border, in Shebaa, southern Lebanon. (AP Photo/Ziad Choufi)
Updated 21 April 2018
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Lebanon evicting Syrian refugees from towns, says rights group

  • Human Rights Watch said it has documented evictions in 13 towns and villages putting more than 3,600 Syrians on the streets since 2017
  • Evictions said to be instigated by landlords, municipal authorities, and the military intelligence services for a variety of reasons

BEIRUT: Local officials in Lebanon are throwing Syrian out of their towns in a violation of their rights as refugees and residents, a human rights group said in a new report released Friday.
Human Rights Watch said it has documented evictions in 13 towns and villages putting more than 3,600 Syrians on the streets since 2017. It says another 7,000 Syrians were forced to abandon a camp near a military base during that time.
The rights group said it was a worrying trend ahead of an international donors’ summit in Belgium to support Lebanon and other countries neighboring war-torn Syria.
Lebanese politicians say their country is straining under the weight of hosting nearly one million Syrian refugees. The tiny Mediterranean country has the highest per capita refugee population in the world: roughly one in five people are refugees, including some 175,000 Palestinians.
Syrians face numerous barriers to employment, education, and housing in Lebanon, with many forced to live under the radar because Lebanon ordered the UN’s refugee commission to halt refugee registrations in 2015.
But anti-Syrian rhetoric has ticked up in recent months as parliamentary elections loom in May.
Local officials in several municipalities have ordered Syrians out en masse, posting eviction notices on their doors, and sometimes sending the police to physically intimidate the refugees if they do not comply, said Human Rights Watch.
The evictions do not appear to have the formal support of the national government. Human Rights Watch called on national authorities to step in and stop the evictions.
“Right now, Syrian refugees do not have the guarantee that they are safe in their homes,” said Bassam Khawaja, a Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch.
The UN’s refugee agency said in a March report it had documented 13,700 Syrian refugee evictions in 2017. It said evictions were instigated by landlords, municipal authorities, and the military intelligence services for a variety of reasons, including security, social tensions, and failure to pay rent.
Human Rights Watch says another 42,000 refugees are at risk for eviction.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.