MOSCOW/JEDDAH: Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it had sent a proposal to Washington to jointly organize the return home of Syrian refugees after agreements reached by President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump, Russian agencies said.
Trump and Putin met at a summit in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had sent Washington a proposal for drawing up a joint action plan to bring Syrian refugees back to the places they lived before the war broke out in 2011.
“The active advancement in this direction has been helped by the agreements reached by the presidents of Russia and the United States during the summit in Helsinki ...,” Mikhail Mizintsev, a ministry official, was quoted as saying by TASS.
The US and Russia’s militaries have a communications link in Syria to avoid accidental clashes and joint work on refugees would represent greater cooperation.
“The proposals presented by Russia are currently being worked out by the US side,” the ministry said.
It said the proposals include setting up a Russian-US-Jordanian monitoring group in Amman and a similar group in Lebanon. It said over 1.7 million Syrian refugees would be able to return to Syria in the near future.
Mizintsev said preliminary assessments indicated 890,000 refugees could return to Syria from Lebanon in the near future, 300,000 from Turkey and 200,000 from EU countries.
Separately, the UN said that an estimated 750,000 internally displaced Syrians returned to their homes through the first half of 2018, nearly equal the amount for all of last year.
The returns have largely occurred in areas that regime forces have clawed back from opposition groups including Aleppo, Homs and Rural Damascus, the UN refugee agency said in a statement.
The rate of returns this year has clearly outpaced that of 2017, when an estimated 760,000 people went back to homes they had been forced to flee.
UNHCR said that in 2017 it had “ramped up its capacity inside Syria” in anticipation that larger numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) would head home to certain areas as the dynamics of the Syrian conflict changed.
The spike in returns came as record numbers were displaced elsewhere.
Opposition fighters laid down their weapons and started evacuating their positions near the Golan Heights on Friday, paving the way for President Bashar Assad’s forces to retake their positions along the Israeli frontier for the first time since 2011.