Hariri: Lebanon will not force Syrian refugees to return

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri gestures during a donor conference in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 February 2018
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Hariri: Lebanon will not force Syrian refugees to return

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Thursday that Lebanon would not force refugees to return to Syria but called for more international help in dealing with the refugee crisis.
More than a million Syrians fled into neighboring Lebanon after war broke out in their country in 2011 and now account for about a quarter of its population.
As the Syrian regime has gained control over more territory, and as fighting has ended in more parts of Syria, some Lebanese politicians have called for Syrian refugees to return.
“My government’s position is very clear. Nobody’s going to force anyone to go back if they don’t want to go back,” Hariri said.
In a speech at a donor conference in Beirut calling for $2.68 billion in humanitarian aid for the crisis this year, Hariri warned that refugees would try to move to other countries if there was not enough support for them in Lebanon.
“We need more from the international community because we are doing a public service for the international community. Otherwise, these people, if we do not do more, if you do not do more, they will seek refuge somewhere else,” he said.
Separately, at least 20 civilians were killed Thursday in Syrian regime’s airstrikes on opposition-held territory in the country’s north, a war monitor said.
Elsewhere three children were reported killed in artillery strikes on opposition-held Eastern Ghouta, while state news agency SANA said seven people died in apparent retaliatory shelling of nearby regime-held Damascus.
The aerial bombardments in the north pounded several areas in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, where regime troops are waging a Russian-backed assault against opposition fighters and radicals.
“Regime raids hit two villages in the south of Aleppo province, killing 15 civilians,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In the neighboring province of Idlib, regime airstrikes killed five civilians in the town of Saraqeb, said the observatory, a Britain-based war monitor.
That broad region is held by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which is dominated by Al-Qaeda’s one-time affiliate in Syria.
Regime troops launched a ferocious offensive in late December to retake parts of Idlib and secure a key road leading from Aleppo south to the capital. Regime forces have made key gains, recapturing the Abu Duhur military airport and dozens of nearby villages.
Since it erupted in 2011, Syria’s conflict has morphed from a protest movement into a brutal and complex war that has left 340,000 people dead.
In an attempt to bring an end to the fighting, backers of opposing sides last year agreed to four “de-escalation” zones in the country.
Idlib makes up part of one zone. The other three are in Syria’s south, the central province of Homs, and the area of Eastern Ghouta, an opposition enclave near Damascus.


US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

Updated 35 min 40 sec ago

US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

  • Donald Trump will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war
  • The US response could involve military, political and economic actions

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.
Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”
The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.
“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.
Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”
US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”
Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.
A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.
US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.
Instead, Trump opted to have US military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to US officials.