Few takers for Hezbollah offer to repatriate Syrian refugees

Syrians prepare to leave their refugee camp in the city of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa valley on the eastern border with Syria. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
0

Few takers for Hezbollah offer to repatriate Syrian refugees

  • A number of refugees from the town of Flita were reluctant to return after hearing of revenge incidents
  • “Hezbollah’s mission in Syria has not yet been completed and as long as the threat of terrorists lingers there, Hezbollah will stay no matter the number of fighters”

BEIRUT: More than 11 days have passed since Hezbollah opened reception centers in Bekaa, a southern suburb of Beirut, and southern Lebanon where Syrian refugees can apply to return to their home country. However, the number of applicants so far has been rather small.
Many of the refugees had one simple question for the Hezbollah officials at the centers: “Will you take us to the Lebanese-Syrian border and dump us there or will you take us to our houses, which you helped destroy, inside Syria?”
Hezbollah opened the repatriation centers in response to the Iranian position, which was later confirmed by Hossein Jaberi Ansari, the Iranian president’s special envoy to Beirut. He said: “One of our top priorities at this stage is the issue of Syrian refugees and ensuring their safe return to their homeland. We cannot discuss a final solution to the Syrian crisis unless refugees are back in their homeland, cities and villages.”
On July 23, about 1,200 people will return from the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border with Syria, to their homes West Qalamoun.
Arsal Mayor Basil Al-Hajjiri said that the return of this group, the third batch of refugees to go home, comes within the framework of a reconciliation with the Syrian authorities, and in coordination with Lebanese General Security.
He added that it had been initiated by the refugees themselves.
“Most of those refugees do not have identification papers to travel outside Arsal and they acted before Hezbollah urged them to submit applications through the party’s centers, and prior to Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil’s call,” said Al-Hajjiri.
“They have agreed to return in light of the developments in the areas surrounding their homes. Neither Hezbollah nor minister Bassil can make them return if they were not fully convinced of their ability to go back to their homes under safe circumstances.”
A source responsible for Hezbollah’s refugee application center in Hermel said it had received telephone calls from Syrians in Wadi Khaled, northern Lebanon, saying it was difficult for them to get to Bekaa to register but that they want to return to their hometown of Talkalakh, having fled the fighting there.
A Hezbollah official said: “Communicating with those refugees requires certain arrangements on which we are currently working.”
But what guarantees can Hezbollah offer refugees who wish to return?
The official said: “Hezbollah’s mission in Syria has not yet been completed and as long as the threat of terrorists lingers there, Hezbollah will stay no matter the number of fighters.”
The Hezbollah source in Hermel confirmed that they do not provide any reassurances or guarantees to refugees about what might await them upon their return to Syria.
“We take individuals’ and families’ names and promise to secure the transportation of all their belongings, but if their houses were destroyed, we cannot promise to rebuild them,” he said. “We collect applications and submit them to the concerned committee.”
Asked how Hezbollah can reassure refugees of their safety even though the party’s fighters are still operating inside Syria in support the regime against the opposition, the Hezbollah official said: “People fought and reconciled throughout the history of mankind. A reconciliation must take place and I believe it is what refugees want.”
He fears that if the Syrian refugees remain in Lebanon, they may cause a demographic change, pointing out that each of the families that had registered at the center included at least 10 members.
Former member of Parliament Nawar Al-Sahili, who heads the committee formed by Hezbollah to oversee the return of Syrian refugees, said the number of registered families so far does not exceed 150.
“We want to send people back to safe areas, not ones that are still undergoing security developments; repatriation does not include returning to Idlib or Deir Ezzor, for instance,” he said, adding that “the applications will be handed over to the Syrian authorities to be approved.”
As for what awaits refugees who return to Al-Qusayr and its countryside, given that most of them are dissidents who took part in anti-regime demonstrations, Al-Sahili said: “We must find a solution for this issue.”
Arsal Mayor Al-Hajjiri said the information he has been given suggests the return of refugees to Al-Qusayr has been postponed by the Syrian authorities and Hezbollah.
“There is great destruction and people want guarantees that can only be provided by those controlling the territory,” he said.
Al-Hajjiri added that a number of refugees from the town of Flita were reluctant to return after hearing of revenge incidents. He believes the return of refugees to Al-Qusayr and its countryside will require not only a reconciliation but a general amnesty.
He pointed out that the road to West Qalamoun is safe but there is a need for a diplomatic route, which remains impassable for now.


Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

Updated 16 February 2019
0

Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

  • Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer”
  • Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria

LONDON: Syria has no future under Bashar Assad but is stuck with the president due to Russian support, Britain’s top diplomat has said.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer,” and called on Moscow to come forward with a solution.
“Assad … is a truly horrific man who has shown that he won’t hesitate to butcher his own people in order to prolong his hold on power. And what future would a country like Syria have with a leader like that?,” Hunt said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“But the reality is because of Russian support, he is there and he is likely to stay for the short-term and possibly longer. It is for the Russians now to come forward with their solution because they have chosen to intervene in the way they have.”
Hunt said it was “impossible” for Syria to have a bright future with Assad still in power.
“This is a man who mercilessly gassed his own people in the most brutally possible way against all international norms, and the Russians chose to prop him up. So it is for Russia now to show they are going to create peace and stability in Syria,” he said.
Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria.
The British official said the US withdrawal from eastern Syria should not take place in a way that harms “our allies like the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria who fought very bravely along Western troops for many years.”
Asked about Britain’s role following the US pullout from Syria, Hunt said: “There is no prospect of British troops going in to replace the American troops leaving, but of course we had discussions with the United States on an ongoing basis and when I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago about how we stabilize the situation in Syria.”
Hunt also spoke about the territorial defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq — but cautioned that was not the same as crushing the mindset behind the terror group.
“We have not yet eliminated the cause of the Daesh movement which is so evil and so destructive and there is a lot more work left to do,” he said.
“It is very important that the global coalition does not hang its hat up and say we are done now, because if we do that there is a very good chance that Daesh will be back.”
“There (is) some evidence now in parts of Iraq that (Daesh is) regrouping and regathering strength.”
On Yemen, Hunt underlined the need for a comprehensive solution that would prevent Iran from using the country as a base to destabilize neighboring states.
Asked about his recent participation in the Warsaw Conference on the Middle East, the British foreign secretary said that the meetings went beyond the Iranian role in the region to touch on reshaping alliances in the Middle East.
He added that he attended a “very productive meeting about Yemen,” in the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
“We spent a long time talking about what is necessary to get peace over the line in Yemen,” he said.
In this regard, Hunt affirmed that a comprehensive settlement in Yemen could only be reached through “a government of national unity in which the Houthis have a stake in which the security of all communities in Yemen is assured, in which Iran is no longer using Yemen as a base to destabilize Yemen’s neighbors, and in which we can end the terrible humanitarian crisis which is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now.”
According to Hunt, the problem lies in how to achieve a final solution and to build trust, in particular the importance of implementing the Stockholm Agreement and withdrawal from the city of Hodeidah “so that we can open up the Red Sea Mills,” where 51,000 tones of UN wheat is stored.
He noted that he held a lengthy discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif about this issue.
According to Hunt, he was told by Zarif that Iran wants to play its part in finding a solution. “We took those commitments at face value but we do now need to see that translated into the Houthis leaving the Port of Hodeideh.”
“All of us know that if that does not happen soon, we are going to see a return to hostilities and that would be an absolute tragedy to the people of Yemen,” Hunt said.
A version of this story was originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat