Lebanon pushes for Syrian refugees to leave

A family stands across a US military vehicle parked on the outskirts of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP)
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Updated 18 July 2020

Lebanon pushes for Syrian refugees to leave

  • US official David Schenker: ‘Time is not ripe now for refugees to return to their country’

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday renewed his call for Syrian refugees to return to their homeland, despite a warning from a US State Department official that the time was “not ripe” for them to leave.

According to the UNHCR, the number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has decreased to 890,000 following the voluntary return of hundreds to their country.

Lebanon believes that its Syrian refugee population has had repercussions on various sectors, in addition to racking up a hefty bill in a country facing severe economic difficulties.

“Lebanon insists on the return of refugees to the safe areas in Syria that are not witnessing any fighting, especially since the Syrian state welcomes their return and pledges to procure them the needed support and care ... those who have already returned were not treated badly in Lebanon based on records of international organizations,” Aoun told Christophe Martin, who is head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lebanon.

The government has approved a plan for their return.

It said that the plan was aimed at preventing the politicization of this “humanitarian act,” especially since Syrian refugees constituted a third of Lebanon’s total population. There was a need to find a national solution that addressed the concerns of the Lebanese people, and the dignity of Syrian refugees, while respecting the principle of prohibiting their settlement at a time when Lebanon was passing through a “critical economic, social, and security situation,” it added.

David Schenker, head of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the US State Department, said the US was committed to helping Lebanon “shoulder the burden” of refugees on its soil through continued humanitarian assistance.


Lebanon believes that its Syrian refugee population has had repercussions on various sectors, in addition to racking up a hefty bill in a country facing severe economic difficulties.

“Unfortunately, the time is not ripe now for these refugees to return to their country,” he warned. “It is not acceptable for them to return unless this is done in full safety and dignity, and voluntarily. The United States fully appreciates Lebanon’s endurance in providing refugees with their basic needs.”

The plan viewed the return of Syrian refugees as being supported by facts and data, including the “improving security situation” in Syria, and UNHCR statistics that stated at least 89 percent of the refugees wished to return to their country. It was also based on the Syrian state “welcoming the return of all Syrians” and its readiness to make all that is needed to facilitate the return process.

Dr. Nasser Yassin, an associate professor at the American University of Beirut, said the government was focusing its plan on the return of refugees whereas previously it had dealt with issues related to their stay in Lebanon and ways to support them.

“But this paper depicts the Syrian regime as welcoming the return of the refugees, which is not true,” he told Arab News. “Usually, people are displaced from their countries for reasons related to political or military conflicts. People will only return to their country when reconciliation and reconstruction are secured, and this has not happened yet.”

Abu Ahmed Saiba, head of the "Syrian Refugee Voice in Lebanon" committee, said that refugees had not yet seen the return plan that had been approved by the Lebanese government. “We want to return today before tomorrow, but the issue is complicated,” he told Arab News. “It is true that the economic situation in Lebanon is bad, but the situation in Syria is much worse, and we receive a lot of information about the spread of the new coronavirus with a lot of cases and a rising death toll.”

Saiba said refugees received financial and in-kind assistance. “We know families that left for Syria and returned to Lebanon afterwards due to the poor economic situation in Syria and their inability to sustain the situation,” he added.

The border between Lebanon and Syria remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is being opened intermittently for Lebanese people returning to their country, and Syrian authorities are receiving people coming from Lebanon, including thousands of non-refugee workers and students provided they perform a PCR test before entering Syrian territories.


Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

Updated 30 November 2020

Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran
  • President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”

TEHRAN: Debate raged in Iran on Sunday over how and when to respond to a top nuclear scientist’s assassination, blamed on arch-foe Israel, as his body was honored at Shiite shrines to prepare it for burial.
Two days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran, parliament demanded a halt to international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear program, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.
President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap.”
Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian military nuclear program, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.
The scientist’s body was taken for a ceremony on Sunday at a major shrine in the holy city of Qom before being transported to the shrine of the Islamic republic’s founder Imam Khomeini, according to Iranian media.
On Monday live video from Tehran, shared by national outlet Iran Press, showed uniformed men gathering around images of Fakhrizadeh seemingly ahead of a procession.
His funeral will be held in the presence of senior military commanders and his family, the defense ministry said on its website, without specifying where.
Israel has not officially commented on Fakhrizadeh’s killing, less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office after four years of hawkish foreign policy under President Donald Trump.
Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and then reimposed and beefed up punishing sanctions as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
Biden has signalled his administration may be prepared to rejoin the accord, but the nuclear scientist’s assassination has revived opposition to the deal among Iranian conservatives.
The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.”
Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished.
Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf called Sunday for “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.
For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.
“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the deal, it said.
The UAE, which in September normalized ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.
The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region...
“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.
Britain, a party to the nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region.”
In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.
Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll.”
Iran has responded to the US withdrawal from the 2015 deal by gradually abandoning most of its key nuclear commitments under the agreement.
Rezai called on Iran’s atomic agency to take “minimum measures” such as “stopping the online broadcast of cameras, reducing or suspending inspectors and implementing restrictions in their access” to sites, ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s parliament said the “best response” to the assassination would be to “revive Iran’s glorious nuclear industry.”
It called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, said the legislature’s news agency ICANA.
Some MPs had earlier accused inspectors of acting as “spies” potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
But the spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRNA on Saturday that the issue of inspectors’ access “must be decided on at high levels” of the Islamic republic’s leadership.