How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanon’s man-made catastrophe

Special How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanon’s man-made catastrophe
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A tent settlement housing Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. (AFP)
Special How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanon’s man-made catastrophe
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Lebanese soldiers at a checkpoint in the Bekaa valley supervise a convoy transporting Syrian refugee families returning to their homes in Syria's Qalamoun region on July 23, 2018. (AFP file)
Special How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanon’s man-made catastrophe
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Syrian refugees play at an unofficial refugee camp in Lebanon's Bekaa valley on March 8, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2022

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanon’s man-made catastrophe

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanon’s man-made catastrophe
  • Political discourse has grown increasingly toxic in tandem with deepening socio-economic crisis
  • Hostile narrative may have spurred uptick in violence against the more than 852,000 Syrians

DUBAI: When Dareen and her family fled to Lebanon in 2014, escaping violence in their home city of Aleppo, northern Syria, she thought their displacement would last a year at most. Eight years on, she and her three children still reside in an informal settlement in Chtaura, near the Syrian border.

Dareen is one of a UN-estimated 852,000 Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon, who have seen their living conditions deteriorate since the onset of their host nation’s financial crisis in late 2019, which has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

Amid this economic turmoil, the language of Lebanon’s political discourse has grown increasingly hostile to Syrian refugees, with pundits and ministers alike pushing a narrative that holds displaced households responsible for the country’s hardship and the ongoing strain on public services.

In the hope of easing this perceived “burden” on Lebanon’s crippled economy, the country’s caretaker government, which claims the number of Syrian refugees is closer to 1.5 million, has launched a scheme to repatriate them.

“Eleven years after the start of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon no longer has the capacity to bear this burden, especially under the current circumstances,” Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, told a ceremony in June launching this year’s UN-sponsored Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

“I call on the international community to work with Lebanon to secure the return of Syrian refugees to their country, or else Lebanon will ... work to get Syrians out through legal means and the firm application of Lebanese law.”




Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati. (AFP file)

According to the UN, Lebanon has appealed for $3.2 billion to address the ongoing impact of the Syria crisis. Around $9 billion has already been provided in assistance since 2015 through the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

Mikati’s comments, which amount to a thinly veiled ultimatum to the UN to send more financial assistance, followed similar remarks in May by the acting Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, who said Lebanon could no longer afford to host such a large refugee population.

According to experts, the causes of Lebanon’s economic problems and its multiple overlapping crises are far more complex than the mere expense of hosting Syrian refugees, for which it receives global assistance.

In August, the World Bank accused Lebanon’s post-civil war leadership of orchestrating “a deliberate depression” by accumulating excessive debt, misusing and misspending commercial bank deposits, and weakening public-service delivery over a 30-year period.

Nevertheless, the experts say, Syrian refugees have become something of a convenient scapegoat to draw blame away from the nation’s embattled political elite.




Syrian refugees are being conveniently blamed for Lebanon's economic troubles. (AFP file)

In July, Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the displaced, said the government plans to begin returning at least 15,000 Syrian refugees per month. Calling the move “a humane, honorable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon,” he insisted it is now safe for refugees to return to Syria.

In a joint meeting with Charafeddine, Hussein Makhlouf, the Syrian regime’s minister of local administration, said “the doors are open for the return of Syrian refugees,” and the government of President Bashar Assad is prepared to facilitate their return.

Lebanon’s repatriation plan has been devised against the backdrop of mounting public resentment and even outright hostility toward Syrian refugees, as Lebanese citizens who are struggling to feed their families demand that the state prioritize their needs over those of perceived outsiders.

“I cannot bear the sight of them anymore,” Maria, a 51-year-old schoolteacher, told Arab News. “We are struggling already, and their presence is making it worse. There is only so much to go around without having to share with outsiders.




For many, the sight of Syrian children wallowing in poverty in refugee camps has become unbearable. (AFP)

“When I see them begging on the streets, when I see them lining up with some form of welfare cards to pay for their goods, I catch myself fighting the urge to scream at them. They are not welcome here. It is our land, our food, our money. They should just go back home already.”

Some pundits and political figures have even claimed that, thanks to cash handouts by aid agencies, Syrian refugees have been getting more assistance than the poorest Lebanese. Such statements have fueled a narrative around Syrian refugees being responsible for the country’s overflowing cup of woe.




Syrian refugees prepare to leave the Lebanese capital, Beirut, for their journey home to Syria on Sept. 4, 2018. (AFP file)

Posting in July on his official Twitter account, Nadim Gemayel, a member of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “For Lebanon, the return of Syrian refugees is not an option, but rather a national necessity. If Syria is not safe for the Syrians to return, then their stay is not safe for the Lebanese, and recent events are proof of that, so either return or return.”

Concerned about the possible impact of this hardening narrative against Syrians, Najat Rushdi, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon, has urged Lebanese public figures to refrain from stoking hostility.

FASTFACTS

9/10 Syrians in Lebanon are living in poverty.

Lebanon plans to deport 15,000 Syrians a month.

Many of the 3.7 million Syrians in Turkey fear being sent back after a shift in Ankara-Damascus ties.

Syrian medical student Faris Muhammad Al Ali recently lost his life in an attack by his peers in Hatay.

The hostile public discourse appears to have resulted in an uptick in violence against Syrians. In June, footage emerged on social media of a Lebanese landowner whipping a group of Syrian boys with a cable.

The boys, who were reportedly hired by the landowner to harvest cherries, can be seen in the footage with potatoes stuffed in their mouths like gags while the landowner beats them and accuses them of stealing.

Even state authorities in Lebanon have been accused of mistreating Syrians. A report published by the human rights monitor Amnesty International in March 2021 included the testimonies of 26 Syrians who claimed they had been tortured by Lebanese authorities, including beatings with metal rods and being held in stress positions.




A Syrian boy clears snow from the entrance of a tent at a refugee camp near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Jan. 20, 2022. (AFP file)

In early September, Bashar Abdel Saud, a Syrian refugee, was allegedly tortured to death by members of Lebanon’s state security agency. When leaked photos of his badly bruised body appeared on social media, authorities claimed he had confessed to being a member of Daesh. Abdel Saud had been arrested for being in possession of a counterfeit $50 bill.

Despite these concerning incidents, many Syrian refugees say they would prefer to stay in Lebanon than go back home. “The reason I left is still there. Assad is still president,” Abu Faisal, 68, who lives in a camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, told Arab News.

“I would rather die outside from a stranger’s humiliation than die in what I consider home by his torture and humiliation. I would live on a small patch of land isolated from the world and not go back.”




Syrian refugees wait to be evacuated from the southern Lebanese village of Shebaa on April 18, 2018, to return home to their village near Damascus. (AFP)

Some observers suspect Hezbollah, which has long been a prominent supporter of the Assad regime, is actively encouraging harmful social attitudes to pressure Syrian refugees to return home — and thereby burnish the regime’s global image.

Although the intensity of fighting has eased across much of Syria in recent months, human rights monitors say the country is still far from secure, with well-documented cases of returnees being detained, tortured, and even killed by the security services of the regime.




Deprived of their husbands, many Syrian women refugees have to do heavy work to survive. (AFP file)

“My husband remains missing,” Dareen, the Syrian from Aleppo now living as a refugee with her family in Chtaura, told Arab News. “In 2018, he returned to Syria because he had been working on starting a project with a friend of his to make some money. I haven’t heard from him since the second day he was there.

“I was advised by my friends and family to continue my life as if he’s dead. I am certain he was arrested by Syrian henchmen. I would rather think of him as dead than languishing in Assad’s prison slaughterhouses.”

Evidence compiled by human rights monitors indicates returnees are not warmly embraced by the regime but are instead treated like traitors for having left.

“My sister-in-law went back to Syria to check on her sick brother last year,” said Dareen. “She was harassed on the Syrian border. The soldiers called her a traitor for leaving, called her a whore and threatened to rape her. She didn’t even want to come back here. She didn’t want to go through the border again, but she had to.”




Members of the Syrian Organization for the Victims of War (SOVW) display pictures documenting the torture of detainees inside the Assad regime's prisons and detention centers. (AFP)

The UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented at least 3,057 cases of the regime arresting returnees between 2014 and 2021 — of which 203 were women and 244 were children. The majority of those returnees had come from Lebanon.

In light of these threats to the lives and well-being of returnees, aid agencies have repeatedly called on the Lebanese government not to deport refugees and to continue offering them sanctuary.

“Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone at risk of torture and is bound by the principle of non refoulement in customary international law, as a party to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment,” New York-based monitor Human Rights Watch said in a report in July.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has likewise reminded the Lebanese government of its duty “to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return.”


Three Israeli soldiers detained for suspected revenge attack on Palestinians

Three Israeli soldiers detained for suspected revenge attack on Palestinians
Updated 13 sec ago

Three Israeli soldiers detained for suspected revenge attack on Palestinians

Three Israeli soldiers detained for suspected revenge attack on Palestinians
JERUSALEM: Three Israeli soldiers were detained on Monday, the military said, after allegedly hurling an improvised bomb at Palestinians near the West Bank city of Bethlehem as revenge for the seizing of the body of a teenager last week.
On Wednesday, in the occupied West Bank, which has seen an intensification of violence since March, Palestinian gunmen seized the body of an Israeli Druze high-schooler from a hospital in the town of Jenin where he had been taken after a car accident, according to the Israeli Defense Forces.
The incident fueled expectations that the military could launch an assault to recover the teenager’s body. But it was quietly returned after some 30 hours following negotiations that, according to a diplomat, had involved the United Nations.
The gunmen did not announce their motivation, but Palestinians demonstrated in Jenin the same day, demanding the release of remains of their relatives which they said Israel was holding. The Druze are an Arab community in Israel whose members serve in its armed forces.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it had launched an investigation into the attack on Palestinians near Bethlehem on Monday by Israeli Druze soldiers but could not provide further details.
Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz said if it came to light that the incident was an act of revenge, the military is dealing with a “severe incident which requires accountability.”
“Israeli soldiers don’t take the law into their hands and exact revenge,” Gantz tweeted.

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine
Updated 29 November 2022

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine

197 organizations write to International Criminal Court demanding action over situation in Palestine
  • The letters cite examples of previous deterrent, preventive ICC statements that proved effective in preventing Israeli crimes against Palestinians
  • They also said recent raids on Palestinian civil society organizations could amount to “offenses against the administration of justice” under the ICC’s Rome Statute

RAMALLAH: Almost 200 organizations have sent letters to the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor and the president of the court’s Assembly of States Parties calling on them to take action over the situation in Palestine, the Palestine News and Information Agency reported on Monday.

It comes ahead of the 21st annual session of the ASP, the ICC’s governing body, which will meet from Dec. 5 to 10 at The Hague in the Netherlands to discuss hey issues relating to the court’s future operations.

The letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan urges him to act to halt crimes committed by Israel’s apartheid regime in Palestine, reminding him that his mandate grants him the authority not only to investigate international crimes but also to monitor situations under investigation by his office and to provide an “early warning” function.

The letter — sent by 197 Palestinian, regional and international civil society organizations — refers to a policy paper from the Office of the Prosecutor that provides a framework for deterrent, preventive statements that allow the office to respond to outbreaks of violence and other crimes by quickly engaging with states and non-governmental organizations to “verify information on alleged crimes, to encourage genuine national proceedings and to prevent reoccurrence of crimes.”

It also gives examples of preventive statements that previously proved effective in Palestine. In 2018, for example, the Office of the Prosecutor issued a preventive statement regarding the planned forced eviction of Bedouin residents from the village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank. The Israeli foreign minister subsequently confirmed that Israeli authorities did not carry out the evictions “out of concerns of an ICC investigation.”

The letter stated that there have been “important missed opportunities for preventive statements in the past year.”

The letter sent to the ASP President Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi highlighted the assembly’s proposal for the implementation of a recommendation by the Independent Expert Review, in which the organization reaffirmed its commitment to “uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity undeterred by any threats or measures against the court, its officials and those cooperating with it, and renews its resolve to stand united against impunity.”

The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC. It was adopted in July 1998 and came into force on July 1, 2002.

The ASP proposal reiterates that its president bears the primary responsibility for coordinating an appropriate response to any threat that could undermine the integrity, effectiveness or impartiality of the ICC.

Both letters note that on Oct. 22, 2021, Israel outlawed six prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, and that their offices, along with those of a seventh group, were raided on Aug. 18 this year by Israeli forces who confiscated computers and other equipment and sealed the entrances under military orders.

The letters stressed that such Israeli actions of effectively “tampering with or interfering with the collection of evidence” during an investigation or trial stage might amount to “offenses against the administration of justice” under Article 70 of the Rome Statute.

They also refer to a 2016 report by the Office of the Prosecutor on preliminary examination activities, which acknowledged that employees of Palestinian organizations, including human rights organization Al-Haq (one of the outlawed organizations) and Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, who had helped to gather information relevant to the office’s preliminary examination, had been subjected to threats and other forms of intimidation and interference.

The letters called on the ICC prosecutor and the ASP president “to respond to Israel’s latest attacks on Palestinian (civil society organizations) and defend human rights defenders who cooperate with the court.”

They added that such Palestinian organizations will continue to be active participants in the Rome Statute framework and cooperate with the court in its investigations into the situation in Palestine.

 


Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’
Updated 28 November 2022

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

TUNIS: The speaker of Tunisia’s dissolved parliament appeared on Monday before a judge investigating accusations his party helped Tunisian extremists travel to fight in Iraq and Syria.

Rached Ghannouchi, an arch-rival of President Kais Saied and also head of the Ennahdha party, arrived in the morning at the anti-terror court in a suburb of the capital Tunis, said one of his lawyers, Mokhtar Jemai.

At the end of the hearing, the judge is expected to decide whether or not to charge the 81-year-old.

Several other Ennahdha officials have been questioned on the “shipment of extremists” case since Saied sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and seized full executive authority in July 2021.

After Tunisia’s 2011 revolt, thousands of Tunisians joined terror groups in Libya as well as Daesh in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Rivals of Ennahdha, which dominated Tunisian politics from 2011 until Saied’s actions, accuse the party of helping them leave.

The party has repeatedly rejected those accusations as “fabricated” and says authorities are trying to distract public attention from “economic and social concerns and the deterioration of people’s living conditions.”

Ghannouchi also appeared before a judge on November 10 as part of a case involving money-laundering and “incitement to violence.”


Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis
Updated 28 November 2022

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis
  • Judges’ suspension of work has damaged public trust in system, lawyers and security official say

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s courthouses are paralysed after the country’s judges’ strike entered its fifth month. 

This prolonged inactivity has had a severe impact on the daily lives of Lebanese people, with hundreds of pending files and detainees awaiting prosecution.

More than 450 of the 560 judges in Lebanon have stopped working, with the rest continuing in military courts or for humanitarian reasons.

The strike centers around demands for salary revisions after the collapse of the Lebanese pound, as well as improvements in working conditions.

In addition to the collapse of the pound, political interference has caused significant displeasure among many in the judiciary, contributing to the desire to strike.

“People are greatly affected,” said Imad Al-Masri, a lawyer specializing in criminal proceedings. “As lawyers, we must defend people’s interests, along with our personal interests, as we are on the verge of bankruptcy and our salary is zero.”

He stated that lawyers in Lebanon are unable file complaints to release detainees, noting that preventive detention is limited to two months.

“There are humanitarian cases where people have to be released. Some (of those who) were arrested due to misdemeanors … can be released in days at the stroke of a pen. However, they have been held for months in inappropriate conditions and no one is taking action.”

Al-Masri added: “Had it not been for the security agencies that are taking action in prosecuting criminals, we would be governed by the law of the jungle.”

Another lawyer, who did not reveal his name, said: “Court hearings in a criminal court (are taking place) without a representative of the Public Prosecution office. This court is considered illegal.

“Some judges suddenly choose not to suspend their activity and decide to open files that are classified as having political coverage, such as in the bribery file of the directory of road traffic.”

The lawyer added that he tried to file an urgent complaint last week before the Cassation Public Prosecution about an attempt to kill one of his clients. However, the complaint was rejected, and when he added that the suspect might kill his client, the prosecution responded that their hands were tied.

The judges’ strike has led many citizens to lose trust in the judiciary, with some taking matters into their own hands.

A security source noted that cases of fraud and physical abuse had increased in the last months, and that offenders are no longer afraid since courthouses are not taking any action. Stories of public prosecutors not receiving people’s complaints or legal proceedings, and police stations not receiving directives to arrest suspects, meanwhile, are common.

Judges who have suspended their activities have been receiving $1,500 for three months, in addition to their salary, while continuing their strike.

However, this is covered by the Support Fund for Judges, a judicial source told Arab News, as a temporary aid while demands for a salary review continue.

The Lebanese Judges Association declared last month that “responsibility, anger and blame should be directed at the political authorities.

“The case of judges suspending their work was not given any importance, thus leaving the people and judges to suffer humiliation, as if justice is not, and never was a priority,” said the association.

Arab News learnt that the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban, had agreed to give judges their salary at the rate of 8,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar, subject to the approval of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

At current rates, though, judges’ monthly salaries are worth between 1.6 million pounds ($40) and 8.2 million dependent on rank and experience.

These salaries ranged between $400 and $5,000 per month before the collapse of the pound.

The increase of the public sector’s wages within the 2022 budget, meanwhile, did not include judges.

A judicial source told Arab News: “There is no electricity, no paper and no pens (at the courts). We sometimes use both sides of a sheet of paper and a phone’s flashlight to search files due to the diesel shortage and the generators’ intermittent power.

“Consequently, there is neither heating, nor cooling or maintenance, and garbage is piling up in some justice palaces.

“There are attempts to interfere politically in judicial files. How can one work in such conditions, in addition to the extremely low salaries?”


Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says
Updated 28 November 2022

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says
  • Key security role reportedly handed to extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir in cabinet being assembled by Benjamin Netanyahu fuels concern

RAMALLAH: Palestinians are ready to confront the policies and actions of the Israeli occupation forces with widespread displays of resistance and steadfastness, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Monday.

His comments, at the start of a cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah, came amid growing Palestinian alarm over a key role promised to far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir in the next Israeli government. Ben-Gvir, a settler living in the West Bank who has long been a fierce opponent of Palestinian statehood, will reportedly have an expanded national security portfolio in the new administration, including responsibility for border police in the West Bank.

More generally, concerns are growing by the day among Palestinians about the likely threats posed by the extreme right-wing Israeli coalition government being formed under the leadership of Likud leader Netanyahu, which will include members of radical religious parties.

Prominent extremist leaders such as Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have openly stated the policies they intend to impose on Palestinians upon the formation of a government in which they are involved.

As a sign of the growing threat, their supporters among the settler population in the West Bank, and some Israeli army soldiers, reportedly have already begun to display more aggressive behavior toward Palestinian civilians.

Israeli sources said one of the plans of the Netanyahu government will be to legalize 60 settler outposts in the West Bank, built by Hilltop Youth extremists on large areas of confiscated Palestinian land. There are said to be plans to allocate money for the modernization and development of the outposts, and to expand the powers of the Israeli Civil Administration to approve the allocation of land for settlement expansion, according to the sources. The new Israeli government will allocate about $52 million annually for development of infrastructure for the “new small settlements” and outposts, they said.

On Monday, Shtayyeh said that the intentions of the next Israeli government had started to become clear, along with its “aggressive and colonial programs and its plans to erase the 1967 borders and to strengthen colonial outposts and turn them into new colonies, and provide them with what they need, covering it legally, materially and politically.”

He said the aggression continues despite “our realization that all settlements are illegal and illegitimate according to international law.”

Shtayyeh added that the next Israeli government will form settler militias, under the protection of the Israeli army, and had vowed to further escalate an already tense situation. However, the threats and intimidation will not frighten the Palestinians, he said.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has stated its opposition to settlement expansion in the West Bank on the grounds that it threatens the two-state solution that Washington supports.

The Palestinians fear continuing settlement expansions will destroy their dream, for which they have fought for 55 years, of a contiguous Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Khalil Al-Tafakji, director of the maps department and an expert on settlement affairs at the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Ben-Gvir is a settler from the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron who ideologically considers the West Bank to be part of Israel. He will not accept that there is any state other than Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and does not believe in the existence of a Palestinian state.

Israeli political and religious parties on the left and right and in the center have differing opinions on many matters, Al-Tafakji said, but they all agree on the issue of settlements and opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“The legalization of settlement outposts in the West Bank will make these outposts a national priority in terms of allocating funds to them, paving roads linking them to neighboring settlements and main streets, exempting them from taxes, and transforming them in the future to be part of a large settlement close to them,” he said.

Al-Tafakji said that what concerns him most is that because a significant part of the new government is likely to include extreme right-wing politicians such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who hail from settlement backgrounds, Netanyahu might appear more moderate.

There are 145 settlements in the West Bank, in which about 550,000 settlers live, 15 settlements in East Jerusalem that are home 230,000 settlers, and 170 illegal outposts. All settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Most of the settlement outposts are in the Jordan Valley or the Hebron area in the southern West Bank, Al-Tafakji said, and they represent a clear existential threat to the Palestinian dream of a state of their own

Younes Arar, director of international relations at the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, told Arab News that the growing threat of legalization of settlement outposts comes amid an increase in the pace of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank in recent days. This is in addition to moves to return settlers to outposts previously vacated by an Israeli political decision, including Avitar, south of Nablus, and Tarslah, near Jenin, he said.

Benny Gantz, who was defense minister in the previous coalition government, strongly criticized the plans to place Ben-Gvir in control of the Border Guard as part of the coalition agreement with Netanyahu.

Gantz, who has accused Ben-Gvir of establishing a private militia, warned against the politicization of the army. There is a consensus among the public on this issue, he told Channel 12 news on Monday.

“I am confident that the leaders and the Israeli army will not acquiesce in the illegal demands in the army,” he said.

Gantz also criticized a reported agreement to transfer the oversight unit in the Israeli Civil Administration that handles civilian and humanitarian affairs of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party.

Meanwhile, Israel has announced that it will now be an offense punishable by three years in prison for Arab-Israelis or Israelis to take their vehicles to Palestinian garages in the West Bank for repair. Dozens of garages in the West Bank, especially in towns and villages close to the border with Israel, are popular with Jews and Israeli Arabs because they are relatively cheap.

The crackdown follows a recent incident in which an Israeli Druze teenager, Tiran Fero, died as a result of a car accident when he took his car to a garage in Jenin for repair.

After his death, Palestinian gunmen took the body, which threatened to cause a major security crisis in the Jenin camp as tensions rose between the Druze community and Palestinians. The body was subsequently handed over following intervention from officials on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.