Arab League chief: No consensus yet for Syria return

Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit. (AFP)
Updated 11 February 2019

Arab League chief: No consensus yet for Syria return

  • The Arab League is due to hold a summit meeting at the end of March in Tunisia

BEIRUT: The Arab League said on Monday there was no consensus yet among member states that may allow the reinstatement of Syria’s membership which was suspended in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.

In a big diplomatic boost for Assad, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in December, saying it aimed to normalize ties and curb risks of regional interference in “Arab, Syrian affairs” — an apparent reference to Iran and Turkey.

But Arab League Secretary-General and former Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, speaking during a visit to Beirut, said there was no consensus yet on Syria being allowed back into the League.

“I follow this subject very closely and I do not yet observe conclusions that lead to the consensus that we are talking about and that may lead to an (Arab) foreign ministers meeting in which they announce the end of the difference and therefore call for Syria to return to occupy the seat,” he said.

The Arab League is due to hold a summit meeting at the end of March in Tunisia.

Asked about the prospects for Syria’s readmission, Aboul Gheit noted that Arab League foreign ministers were due to hold two meetings before the summit.

“But the matter is not time, the matter is will. The matter is consensus among the states,” he said.

“For Syria to return, there must be consensus.”


Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

Updated 13 min 27 sec ago

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

  • Health personnel in protective gear took the temperature of disembarking passengers
  • Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.
The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late Sunday morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.
It showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.
The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport on March 18 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.
An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport waiting to transport the passengers.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army, he said.
Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month.
Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines has said flights would also land in Beirut on Sunday from Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan.
It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.
They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.
The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.
But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.
Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.
Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.
On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.
Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.
Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who can’t afford it.
The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive — $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example — because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.