Jordan says in talks with US and Russia to dismantle Syria camp

A Syrian refugee boy plays in front of his family tent at the Al Zaatri refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 18, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Jordan says in talks with US and Russia to dismantle Syria camp

  • Jordan’s foreign ministry said the kingdom backed a Russian plan to arrange the voluntary return of the inhabitants of Rukban camp to their home areas in Syria

AMMAN: Jordan said on Thursday it was in talks with Washington and Moscow to empty a desert camp used by 50,000 displaced Syrians, a move aimed at defusing security tensions near a potential military flashpoint on its northeast border with Syria.
Jordan’s foreign ministry said the kingdom backed a Russian plan to arrange the voluntary return of the inhabitants of Rukban camp to their home areas in eastern Syria following their recapture by the Syrian government from Daesh.
“Jordanian-US-Russian talks have begun with the aim of finding a fundamental solution to Rukban by ensuring the right conditions of their voluntary return to their cities and towns,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al Qatarneh said.
“Jordan supports the Russian plan to create the conditions that allow the emptying of the camp,” he said in a statement.
He did not elaborate.
Intelligence sources say the Russian plan entails negotiating with Syrian tribal leaders and former Western-backed rebels sheltering in the camp area to provide safe passage for returnees to go to opposition areas in northern Syria, and to help those who want to go their homes in state-held areas.
Many camp inhabitants are not ready to go back to homes in state-held areas for fear of being drafted for conscription, tribal figures in the camp say.
Developments at Rukban are watched closely around the region because it is near a US garrison in southeastern Syria at Tanf on the Iraq-Syria border. The camp falls within a so-called deconfliction zone set up by the Pentagon to try to shield the Tanf garrison from attacks by pro-government forces.
Damascus says the US forces are occupying Syrian territory and providing a safe-haven in that area for rebels it deems terrorists.
Jordan officials have repeatedly said they suspect the camp is infiltrated with Daesh sleeper cells, a security nightmare that has haunted Amman since a Daesh militant in 2016 drove a car bomb into a Jordanian military border post, killing seven guards.
In the last three years, tens of thousands of Syrians trekked to the camp where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. They fled expanded Russian and US-led coalition air strikes against Daesh-held areas in central and eastern Syria.
Intelligence sources say a siege of the camp last month by the Syrian army that depleted food stores in the compound and raised the spectre of starvation was aimed at piling pressure on Washington.
Russia’s defense ministry in August repeated an accusation that Washington has been harboring Daesh militants within the zone.
Washington however responded to growing Russian pressure by conducting rare military exercises in the base last month, and General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, made an unannounced visit to Tanf.
Tanf lies on the strategic Damascus-Baghdad highway, once a major supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria. This makes the base a bulwark against Iran and part of a larger campaign against Iranian influence in the Middle East.


Hariri: “Promising summer” for Lebanon after Saudi travel warning lifted

Updated 3 min 21 sec ago
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Hariri: “Promising summer” for Lebanon after Saudi travel warning lifted

  • Saudi Arabia started warning its citizens of the instability in Lebanon in 2011
  • Lebanese PM Al-Hariri hopes for a series of agreements with Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT: More people have visited Lebanon since Saudi Arabia lifted its travel warning in February, pointing to a “promising summer” ahead, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said on Wednesday.
A fall in visitors from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies has hit Lebanon’s tourism industry, once a mainstay of a now-battered economy that Hariri’s new government has pledged to revive.
Saudi Arabia was once a major supporter both of its political allies in Beirut, chiefly Hariri, and of the Lebanese state. However, mindful of its overarching rivalry with Iran, Riyadh stepped back as Iran’s Lebanese ally, the political and military Hezbollah movement, grew in strength.
Saudi Arabia had been advising its citizens since 2011 to avoid Lebanon, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria.
“Without doubt the Saudi leadership’s decision ... had the most impact in increasing the number of visitors to Lebanon recently, which gives the best proof of a promising summer,” Hariri said at a Beirut conference attended by the head of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman humanitarian center.
Hariri also said he hoped that a pledge from Riyadh to help Lebanese families in need would spark a series of agreements between the two countries.
With pillars of the economy such as tourism and real estate in the doldrums, Lebanon has suffered years of low economic growth, and run up one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
Saudi ties with Lebanon hit a low in November 2017, when Hariri was held against his will in Riyadh, announcing his resignation in a TV statement.
After French intervention, Hariri returned to Lebanon and withdrew the resignation, resolving the crisis. Though Hariri has always denied having been held in Saudi Arabia, French President Emmanuel Macron publicly confirmed it last year.