UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles

UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles
Filippo Grandi addresses a press conference in Beirut on Friday. (AP)
Updated 01 September 2018

UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles

UNHCR chief calls for ‘dignified return’ of Syrian exiles
  • Grandi’s comments follow confirmation by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun that Lebanon will continue to organize a gradual voluntary return of refugees
  • The UN commissioner cautioned against a hasty solution for the return of refugees

BEIRUT: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Friday that Syrian refugees in Lebanon need assurances of a “safe and dignified return” to their homeland. 

Grandi’s comments follow confirmation by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun that Lebanon will continue to organize a gradual voluntary return of refugees in accordance with a Russian initiative.

Mu’in Al-Marabi, Lebanon’s deputy secretary of state, who took part in the meeting between Grandi and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, told Arab News that the UN commissioner had no problem with the Russian initiative, but insisted that conditions should be suitable for repatriation of Syrian refugees.

“Grandi said we must be logical and unbiased when we discuss refugees’ return,” Al-Marabi said.

The UN commissioner cautioned against a hasty solution for the return of refugees, saying this would be counterproductive. 

“At the same time, we are faced with the need to rebuild the infrastructure so that Syrian refugees can live in dignity, which will take an unknown amount of time and require funds — Russia recognizes this and requests the support of international bodies,” Al-Marabi said.

Grandi also called for an end to the Foreign Ministry’s freeze on residency applications by UNHCR staff.

According to the deputy secretary of state, Grandi told Hariri: “We cannot work and help unless our conditions are comfortable and not complicated.” 

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil ordered a freeze on all residency applications by the UN refugee agency in June, saying that the agency had been practicing a “policy of intimidation toward Syrians planning to return.”

Grandi also voiced concern about the worsening situation in Idlib, in northwestern Syria. “This is the next big phase of the war in Syria and it could be devastating, though we hope it is otherwise,” he said.

“We also hope to save the lives of civilians, and the Syrian government said it would try to adopt an approach that saves as many civilians as possible, but you know that the situation is very difficult, complicated, and a cause for concern for everyone, including Lebanon.”

Beirut was Grandi’s third stop on a tour that started from Jordan then Syria, where he met with officials in the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Damascus and reviewed the measures taken by the Syrian government to facilitate the return of refugees. 

Accompanied by the UNHCR representative in Lebanon, Mireille Girard, Grandi began his visit to Lebanon by meeting Aoun, who demanded that “the UNHCR play a greater role in facilitating the safe return of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to their towns and villages.”

More than 735,000 Syrians in Lebanon had been displaced from Syrian territory that is now safe, Aoun said.

Aoun said that “Lebanon will continue to organize the gradual return of Syrian refugees who wish to return,” and called on international organizations to help those who have returned to their towns, villages or safe areas in Syria.

He denied that Lebanese authorities had pressured groups of refugees to return, explaining that “their return to safe areas in Syria was fully voluntary.” 

After meeting with Hariri, Grandi said: “Things have been terrible in Syria during the past years, but we try to observe people’s concerns about whether to return or not.

“We have openly discussed with the Syrian government how to deal with certain challenges, some of which are financial while others are linked to legal matters, and informed President Aoun and PM Hariri of our discussions’ results.”

Grandi said that he had met with Russian officials in Damascus and Geneva, and confirmed that the UNHCR has a close dialogue with Russia.

“We hope that donors will continue to support Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, which I visited a few days ago,” he said. “We need the support of donor states.”


Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut
Updated 21 min 31 sec ago

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut
  • Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called for restraint after the clashes

LONDON: At least five people including three Hezbollah members were killed in Khalde, south of Beirut on Sunday when a funeral for a party member was ambushed.

Several people were wounded in the exchange of fire in the Khalde area between members of the Lebanese Shiite group and Sunni residents, after a funeral for Ali Shibli was attacked.

Shibli was killed the night before.

Sectarian tensions have long flared in Khalde between the town's mixed Shi'ite and Sunni residents.

Footage of a video broadcast on Hezbollah's Manar TV channel showed a volley of gunfire being fired on the convoy of mourners arriving at the home of Shibli.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah urged the Lebanese authorities to pursue the culprits saying the incident reflected lawlessness and bigotry.

Prime minister-designate Najib Mikati appealed for "restraint" and warned against confessional "discord".


Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
  • The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies
  • Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers

CAIRO: Egyptian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid called on the personnel and officers from one of the southern region’s military units to be “vigilant and combat-ready to carry out the tasks of securing the country’s borders.”

During a meeting with personnel from the unit, Farid conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for their efforts and sacrifices in the fight to maintain the security of the country’s southern border against smuggling, illegal immigration and hostilities.

The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies, praising their combat readiness and high morale.

Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers to enable them to make quick decisions under various circumstances.

He inspected the unit’s procedures for raising combat efficiency, beginning with the presentation of a report that included the technical and administrative status of the unit following improvements to weapons and other areas.


Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
Updated 18 min 24 sec ago

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation.

Bennett’s statement came after Iran rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” it was responsible for the attack that killed two crewmen, and Tehran vowed to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh made comments on the attack from Tehran and denied any involvement, saying Israel “must stop such baseless accusations,” and noting “it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the Omani coast.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” the Israeli premier said at the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks conveyed by his office.

“In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett slammed Iran’s “cowardly” denial, saying he could “determine with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

“Iran’s aggressive conduct is dangerous not only to Israel, but also harms global interests, freedom of navigation and international trade,” he said.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the oil tanker, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

The UK on Sunday denounced Iran's “deliberate, targeted” attack on the tanker after assessing Tehran was behind the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “unlawful and callous” and said the UK was working with its international partners on a concerted response to what he called an “unacceptable” strike.

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and agreed to work with other allies "to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps", a State Department statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP and AP) 


Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
Updated 01 August 2021

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
  • It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants
  • Migrant boat departures have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved

ABOARD SEA-WATCH 3, Mediterranean: Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68 km (42 miles) from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.


Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas
Updated 01 August 2021

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

GAZA: Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected as chief of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, two Palestinian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
Haniyeh has led Hamas since 2017.