Lebanon urges return of refugees to Syria

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An aerial view shows an informal tent settlement housing Syrian refugees in the area of Delhamiyeh, in the central Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on January 17, 2019. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
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An aerial view shows an informal tent settlement housing Syrian refugees in the area of Delhamiyeh, in the central Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on January 17, 2019. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Lebanon urges return of refugees to Syria

  • President Michel Aoun tells Arab economic summit that Lebanon was overwhelmed by Syrian and Palestinian refugees
  • Aoun proposes creation of an Arab bank for reconstruction and development

BEIRUT: Lebanon used an Arab economic summit on Sunday to urge the return of refugees to safe areas of Syria after eight years of war.

President Michel Aoun told the meeting Lebanon was overwhelmed by Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who make up about half the population of a country struggling with an economic crisis.

He proposed the creation of an Arab bank for reconstruction and development “to help all affected Arab states overcome adversity and contribute to their sustainable economic growth.”

The meeting is the first economic and development summit since 2013, and comes as Syria, Yemen and Libya remain gripped by violence and Iraq confronts a massive reconstruction challenge after its costly victory over Daesh.

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said nearly half of all refugees “come from our Arab world.”

The emir of Qatar, and the president of Mauritania were the only heads of state from the 22-member Arab League who attended the summit. Other countries sent lower-level delegations.

The other leaders’ absence was a snub to Lebanon, where groups led by Hezbollah had insisted that Bashar Assad of Syria should be invited.

Several hundred people protested in the streets of Beirut on Sunday, blaming politicians for growing economic troubles. 


Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

Updated 16 February 2019
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Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday suggested the mosque in Athens should open with minarets if the Greek premier wants to reopen a seminary in Istanbul.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Turkey this month and visited the disputed landmarks of Hagia Sophia and the now-closed Greek Orthodox Halki seminary.
Tsipras said during the visit to the seminary located on Heybeli island off Istanbul on February 6 he hoped to reopen the school next time with Erdogan.
Future priests of the Constantinople diocese had been trained at the seminary, which was closed in 1971 after tensions between Ankara and Athens over Cyprus.
Erdogan on Saturday complained that the Fethiye Mosque in Athens had no minarets despite Greek insistence that it would open.
The mosque was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you (Greece), come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northwestern province of Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
“They said, ‘we are opening the mosque’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” he said, describing his talks with Tsipras.
“We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it... But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets,” the Turkish president added.
Erdogan said Tsipras told him he was wary of criticism from the Greek opposition.
After the independence war against Ottomans began in 1821, the minaret is believed by some to have been destroyed because it was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara had returned land taken from the seminary in 1943 but there is still international pressure on Turkey to reopen it.
Erdogan has previously said that its reopening is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to enhance the rights of the Turkish minority.