Syrian elections cause tension and violence in Lebanon

Syrian elections cause tension and violence in Lebanon
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Members of the Christian rightwing Lebanese Forces group attack a car carrying Syrian voters before heading to the Syrian embassy to vote, in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP)
 Activists protesting against ‘an organized vote for Bashar Assad’ scuffle on Monday with Lebanese soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP)
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Activists protesting against ‘an organized vote for Bashar Assad’ scuffle on Monday with Lebanese soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP)
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Updated 21 May 2021

Syrian elections cause tension and violence in Lebanon

 Activists protesting against ‘an organized vote for Bashar Assad’ scuffle on Monday with Lebanese soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP)
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon proclaiming support for the Assad regime face off against angry Lebanese in street fights
  • Former minister Richard Kouyoumdjian tells pro-Assad voters ‘You are opportunists and you are not displaced’

BEIRUT: Calls for Syrians in Lebanon to return to their country have become a deeply divisive politicized issue over the decade-long civil war in Syria, one which has recently been exacerbated by the upcoming election in Syria.

On Thursday, groups of angry Lebanese beat up Syrian expatriates and refugees heading to the Syrian embassy to cast their votes for next Wednesday's election, and threw stones at their vehicles, outraged over what they perceive as an organized vote for Assad. There have been rumors that Hezbollah organized transport for voters from across Lebanon to the embassy.

Assad is running for a fourth term, facing symbolic competition from two other candidates in a vote that is all but guaranteed to see him continue as president.

The Syrian opposition — as well as many Western and Arab countries — see the election as a sham designed to give Assad’s reign a veneer of legitimacy. The election also violates UN resolutions that call for a new constitution before a presidential vote.

Lebanon hosts 865,531 registered Syrian refugees, and there are several hundred thousand Syrians residing in Lebanon with their families as daily or seasonal workers.

Syrians in Lebanon include regime supporters and opposition figures who fled to Lebanon because of the war. Lebanon is in the midst of a severe economic crisis and is calling for Syrian refugees to return to their country because of the high cost of hosting them.

The roads leading to the embassy area in Yarzeh were congested with cars and buses loaded with voters since early Thursday morning. Many chanted slogans in support of Assad and the regime army, waving Syrian flags and carrying pictures of Assad. They confirmed to the media before and after the polls that they had voted for Assad.

Many Lebanese people reacted angrily to this. Members of the Lebanese Forces party went to the coastal highway that connects northern Lebanon with Beirut, and blocked cars carrying pictures of Assad, or Syrian flags, or banners for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) — an ally of the Syrian regime, smashed car windows, and assaulted their occupants.

FASTFACT

The roads leading to the Syrian Embassy area in Lebanon were congested with cars and buses loaded with voters since early Thursday morning. Many chanted slogans in support of Bashar Assad.

They told the media: “They are loyal to Assad, so why are they still in Lebanon as refugees?”

Members of the Lebanese Forces party also said that Assad-supporting Syrians should have their refugee status removed.

Similar scenes took place in Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood, where young Lebanese men chased a car displaying the Syrian flag. The Lebanese army intervened to separate the two sides.

Fifty-four-year-old Mohsen Saleh Al-Ahmad died while traveling by bus from Chtaura, Bekaa, to the embassy. According to official preliminary investigations, he had a heart attack.

Since Thursday morning’s events, the army has tightened security in and around the Syrian Embassy, which is located in the vicinity of the Ministry of Defense and the Army Command, and on the roads leading to it.

But further clashes broke out in the afternoon, this time instigated by Syrians, who reportedly got off the buses transporting them along the coastal road near Nahr Al-Kalb and proceeded to assault passers-by and throw stones at cars, injuring several people, including journalists from MTV.

Some Lebanese politicians were quick to condemn the actions of pro-Assad Syrian voters.

Former minister May Chidiac said: “They claim to be displaced and are calling on the international community to support them with fresh dollars while they are an additional burden on Lebanon’s overstretched economy! At the doors of the Syrian embassy, ​​they are chanting for Bashar Assad. As long as you are not threatened, go back to where you came from.”

Another former minister, Richard Kouyoumdjian, said: “Swear allegiance to Bashar Assad in your country, not in ours. You are opportunists and you are not displaced.”

But former Hezbollah MP Nawar Al-Sahili described attacks on Syrian voters as demonstrating “racism and a lack of integrity.”

Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali said those attacks were “painful, and we refer (them) to the concerned authorities” and called on Lebanon “to cooperate to find quick exits for the return of the Syrians to their country.”

The Syrian diplomat said that the large number of voters “reflects the desire of Syrian people to return to a safety that they have not found outside Syria.”

Lisa Abu Khaled, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Arab News: “The UNHCR has received reports of incidents involving pressure, threats, and harassment affecting Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in relation to the Syrian presidential elections. The reported incidents range from confiscation of documents to threats of physical harm.”

She added: “Voting is a personal choice and is not linked to refugee status, nor to a person’s need for international protection. Voting will not lead to the loss of refugee status. The UNHCR has received reports of intimidation and pressure, which may have pushed a number of refugees to participate in the elections.

“The UNHCR is a non-political humanitarian organization, and therefore does not play any role in the Syrian elections,” she continued. “That said, if and when incidents of threats and pressure are reported by refugees, we work with the concerned stakeholders in Lebanon to ensure that refugees continue to be protected in Lebanon.”

Not all Syrian refugees in Lebanon exercised their right to vote. Abu Ahmad, a camp supervisor in a refugee camp in Arsal, told Arab News: “Most people are not interested. There may be some who voted at the embassy, ​​but they do not (symbolize) a collective conviction. Refugees are frustrated and cannot forget their suffering and the horrors they experienced during their displacement.

“What has changed now? How can Assad be re-elected? On what basis? People were hoping for some change to happen, but what is happening is the polishing of the image of Bashar Assad in front of the international community,” he continued. “Maintaining my strength today is more beneficial than wasting my time in front of the ballot box. Here, I feel safe even though I am homeless.”

Caretaker Social Affairs and Tourism Minister Ramzi Musharrafieh, who visited Syria a few weeks ago and discussed the return of refugees, denounced “all the infringements that have occurred and are unjustified,” and said that “protecting (Syrian voters) is our priority.”

Former MP Khaled Al-Daher, who has been a major advocate for Syrian refugees in Lebanon in the past, said on Thursday: “Anyone who wants to elect Bashar Assad from among the refugees in Lebanon will not have refugee status and must leave the Lebanese territories because they have no problem with the Syrian regime, but are in Lebanon for specific goals and objectives.”


Tunisian president says in contact with ‘friendly countries’ to cut deficit

Tunisian president says in contact with ‘friendly countries’ to cut deficit
Updated 3 min 14 sec ago

Tunisian president says in contact with ‘friendly countries’ to cut deficit

Tunisian president says in contact with ‘friendly countries’ to cut deficit

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said in a video published by his office on Sunday that there were contacts with “friendly countries” to cut the country’s financial deficit, without giving details.
Tunisia’s fiscal deficit and public debt both grew sharply last year as a result of the pandemic and the government has been in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a loan deal. 


Yemeni minister slams Houthi militias’ recruitment of child soldiers

Yemeni minister slams Houthi militias’ recruitment of child soldiers
Updated 11 min 7 sec ago

Yemeni minister slams Houthi militias’ recruitment of child soldiers

Yemeni minister slams Houthi militias’ recruitment of child soldiers
  • In a tweet on Sunday, Yemen's Information Minister slammed the continued militarization of children and warned of the dangerous consequences for future generations

DUBAI: Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani has condemned the use of thousands of child soldiers by Iran-backed Houthi militias.

In a tweet on Sunday, he slammed the continued militarization of children and warned of the dangerous consequences for future generations.

Al-Eryani said the Houthis were “depriving children in their areas of control of their right to education, play, and normal life while using them as fuel for their battles to serve the ambitions of Iran.”

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and the SAM for Rights and Liberties organizations said in a recent report that the Houthis had forcibly recruited 10,300 children in Yemen since 2014 and called for urgent action to address the issue.

The report, titled “Militarizing Childhood,” highlighted the Houthis’ use of schools and educational facilities to recruit children.


Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing

Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing
Updated 40 min ago

Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing

Jordanian passenger jet forced into emergency landing
  • The airline is currently working with the concerned authorities to determine the reason behind the error, local media said

DUBAI: Royal Jordanian Airlines announced that its flight RJ 508 from Cairo to Amman was forced Monday into an emergency landing at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport 10 minutes before the scheduled landing time.

The airline said in a statement that it successfully completed the landing of the jet on the main runway, and all 133 passengers and six crew members of the flight were evacuated and transferred to the airport.

The airline is currently working with the concerned authorities to determine the reason behind the error, local media said. 

 


UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17

UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17
Updated 02 August 2021

UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17

UAE rolls out Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17
  • The Gulf state, which has among the world’s highest immunization rates, was already providing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12-15

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 3-17, the UAE government said on Twitter on Monday.
It cited the health ministry as saying the decision comes after clinical trials and extensive evaluations, without providing any details. Authorities said in June the trial would monitor the immune response of 900 children.
The Gulf state, which has among the world’s highest immunization rates, was already providing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12-15.
The health ministry said on Sunday that 78.95 percent of the UAE population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose while 70.57 percent had been fully vaccinated.
The UAE, the region’s tourism and trade hub, registered 1,519 new coronavirus infections on Sunday to take its total to 682,377 cases and 1,951 deaths. It does not provide a breakdown for each of its seven emirates.
It led Phase III clinical trials of the vaccine produced by China’s state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm and has started manufacturing it under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.


Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass

Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass
Updated 02 August 2021

Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass

Lebanon implements COVID-19 health pass
  • The new rules go into effect Monday, at the peak of Lebanon’s summer tourist season while daily infections hover near the 1,000 mark

DUBAI: Lebanon will implement entry restrictions starting this week to tourist establishments such as beaches, bars and restaurants in a bid to curb a spike in COVID-19 infections. 

Anyone aged 16 and older must show a COVID-19 vaccination certificate, a recent negative coronavirus test or a document proving a previous infection to gain entry, the health ministry said last week. 

The ministry added that workers at those sites who have not received the vaccine will have to perform a PCR test every 72 hours.

The new rules go into effect Monday, at the peak of Lebanon’s summer tourist season while daily infections hover near the 1,000 mark.