More Syrians in organized return home from Lebanon

Syrian refugees prepare to be evacuated from the southern Lebanese village of Shebaa on August 13, 2018. Lebanon says it currently hosts some 1.5 million Syrian refugees, of whom fewer than one million are registered with the UN. (AFP/Ali Dia)
Updated 13 August 2018
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More Syrians in organized return home from Lebanon

  • Dozens of Syrian refugees left Lebanon by bus on Monday in the latest of a wave of returns to their war-torn country
  • Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who fled the civil war across the border

SHEBAA, Lebanon: Dozens of Syrian refugees left Lebanon by bus on Monday in the latest of a wave of returns to their war-torn country, Lebanese authorities said.
An AFP photographer in the southern town of Shebaa saw women and children wait to board buses, while men loaded belongings on the back of a large pick-up truck.
Lebanon’s General Security agency “secured the voluntary return of 137 displaced Syrians from the areas of Shebaa and central Bekaa through the Masnaa border crossing toward Syria,” it said it a statement.
Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who fled the civil war across the border, many of them in the Bekaa Valley in the east of the country.
Lebanese state news agency NNA said “several refugees returned to Syria with their own private vehicles” through Masnaa, without giving a figure.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the returnees had begun arriving in Syria.
It earlier said preparations had been made to “receive hundreds of displaced returning from Lebanon to their homes in the Damascus countryside.”
Since April, more than 2,000 Syrians have headed home from Lebanon in such returns coordinated by the authorities in Beirut and Damascus, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Human rights groups have warned that Syrians returning to their homeland should do so voluntarily and with full knowledge of the risks.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, around 13,000 Syrians went home from Lebanon during the first six months of this year.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
But President Bashar Assad has called for displaced Syrians to return since his regime ousted rebels and jihadists from large parts of the country following a massive military intervention by regime ally Russia.
Last month, Russia presented the United States with plans for the coordinated return of refugees to Syria.
The proposal includes the establishment of working groups in both Lebanon and Jordan, involving US and Russian officials.
Earlier this month, Syrian state media said the government was to set up a committee to coordinate repatriating millions of its nationals.
Last week, Lebanon’s General Security agency announced it had opened 17 centers across the country to receive applications for Syrians who want to travel back home.


Lebanese budget protesters clash with security in Beirut

Updated 20 May 2019
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Lebanese budget protesters clash with security in Beirut

  • Over one hundred protesters gathered Monday outside the Government House in downtown Beirut
  • Lebanon faces a looming fiscal crisis as the economy struggles with soaring debt

BEIRUT: Security forces opened water cannons on Lebanese anti-austerity protesters in the country’s capital on Monday, as the government continued to hold marathon meetings to discuss severe budget cuts.
Lebanon faces a looming fiscal crisis as the economy struggles with soaring debt, rising unemployment and slow growth. The government’s tightened budget and key reforms aim to unlock billions of dollars in pledged foreign assistance. But planned cuts have unleashed a wave of public discontent, amid leaks that austerity could target public wages, services and social benefits.

A retired Lebanese soldier chants slogans while holding an army flag, during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday. (AP)

Over one hundred protesters gathered Monday outside the Government House in downtown Beirut shouting “Thieves, thieves!” as the Cabinet met for its 16th session and struggles to reach agreement.
Protesters pushed back against police lines and set fire to tires outside the building. At least two policemen and one civilian were wounded in the scuffles.
Among those demonstrating Monday were public and private school teachers and retired officers.
The government, headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has sought to calm nerves while also describing the upcoming budget as the most austere in Lebanon’s history.
Hariri said he hopes the government will be able to send the budget to parliament later this week.
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said the cabinet made “important progress” in discussions Sunday.