Crime spree in Lebanon prompts debate over Syria repatriations

Special Crime spree in Lebanon prompts debate over Syria repatriations
Syrian refugees return to their home country from the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Oct. 26, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Crime spree in Lebanon prompts debate over Syria repatriations

Crime spree in Lebanon prompts debate over Syria repatriations
  • Latest incident was the killing of an official in the Lebanese Forces Party, Pascal Suleiman
  • Lebanon currently hosts around 2m Syrians, most having arrived since 2011

BEIRUT: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reiterated on Tuesday “the right of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to return freely to their homeland whenever they choose to do so.”

It came as the campaign against the continued presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon intensified against the backdrop of a number of crimes committed by Syrians in recent weeks.

The latest incident was the killing of an official in the Lebanese Forces Party, Pascal Suleiman, last week after his car was stolen and his body taken to the Lebanese-Syrian border.

It was preceded a few days earlier by another crime committed in the Achrafieh area in Beirut against a husband and wife by their Syrian maid and other Syrians in an intended robbery. The husband died following the incident and his wife was seriously injured.

On Tuesday morning news broke of the death of Lebanese man Yasser Al-Kokash in the town of Al-Azzounieh in Aley district at the hands of Syrian citizens after they tied him up and stole the contents of his apartment.

Syrian refugees started coming to Lebanon in 2011. The number of refugees registered with the UNHCR has officially dropped to less than a million people after some subsequently returned to their country. However, after the UNHCR stopped registering Syrian refugees in 2015, the rate of illegal crossings from Syria to Lebanon increased.

Lebanon estimates the number of Syrian refugees on its territory to exceed 2 million people.

Caretaker Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi estimated the percentage of Syrian detainees and convicts in Lebanese prisons to be about 35 percent of the total prison population.

The Lebanese General Security has organized voluntary repatriation trips for Syrian refugees, but only a few thousand refugees have returned, as the Syrian regime decides who can according to lists of names provided by the Lebanese General Security to the relevant Syrian authorities.

In a statement, UNHCR spokeswoman Dalal Harb said: “We support and respect the humanitarian right of refugees to return freely and voluntarily to their home country, whenever they choose to do so, in accordance with international principles and non-refoulement.”

Harb stressed that “most Syrian refugees express their desire to return to Syria, but their decision is based on several factors, including safety, security, housing, access to basic services, and securing livelihoods.”

He added the UNHCR “will continue to cooperate with the General Directorate of General Security, which facilitates the repatriation of the refugees who want to return to Syria by registering their names.”

Ahead of the Brussels Conference on Refugees on April 30, Lebanon has urged donors to secure assistance to cover the cost of the Syrian presence in the country.

Minister of Information Ziad Makary said on Tuesday: “The illegal infiltration of Syrian refugees through the sea from Lebanon into Cyprus has caused a diplomatic crisis.

“The crimes that have occurred made us focus more on this existential problem for Lebanon. The solution is for them to either return to Syria or go to a third country.”

A plan proposed by the ministers of labor and social affairs, the Maronite League, and the General Directorate of General Security has also been addressed, which aims to repatriate Syrians and calls for the establishment of a National Emergency Authority headed by the prime minister.

It will be in charge of communicating with UNHCR officials in order to assist the state in classifying Syrians into three categories.

The first includes Syrians registered with the UNHCR as refugees and who can return to safe areas of their country. The second category includes Syrians who are registered with the UNHCR as refugees and work in Lebanon, while the third includes those who are registered with the UNHCR as refugees and want to travel to a third country.

As for the Syrians residing illegally in Lebanon, a “ministerial committee headed by the interior minister will be in charge of putting together lists of names indicating whether those Syrians have a valid residency or an expired one, and whether they have any documentation.”

The plan also stipulates that “land borders will be controlled, as it appeared that infiltration is mostly happening for economic reasons rather than security reasons.”

A delegation headed by Lebanese Forces MP Sethrida Geagea met Interior Minister Bassam Al-Mawlawi on Tuesday. Geagea called for “the implementation of the interior ministry’s circulars related to handling the illegal Syrian presence.”

Geagea estimated the number of Syrian refugees “in the northern Christian cities, Mount Lebanon and Jezzine to be around 830,000.”

She said that “implementing these circulars allow us to reduce the number of refugees very soon,” adding: “According to the United Nations, Lebanon is not a country of asylum, but a country of transit. We’ve been tolerating this since 2011, but we cannot do this anymore.”


Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

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Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’
1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday
The vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island

NICOSIA: Four ships from the United States and France are transporting aid from Larnaca port to the Gaza Strip amid the spiralling humanitarian crisis there, the Cyprus presidency said on Tuesday.
Victor Papadopoulos from the presidential press office told state radio 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday.
He said the vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island, a distance of about 360 kilometers (225 miles).
Large quantities of aid from Britain, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and other countries have accumulated at Larnaca port.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters on Tuesday the maritime aid effort was “on track.”
“We have substantial assistance from third countries that want to contribute to this effort,” he said.
The aid shipped from Cyprus is entering Gaza via a temporary US-built floating pier, where the shipments are offloaded for distribution.
The United Nations has warned of famine as Gaza’s 2.4 million people face shortages of food, safe water, medicines and fuel amid the Israel-Hamas war that has devastated the coastal territory.
Aid deliveries by truck have slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt in early May.
The war in Gaza broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Two days after the war broke out, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor

Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor
Updated 21 May 2024
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Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor

Daesh attack in Syria kills three soldiers: war monitor
  • The militants “attacked a site where... regime forces were stationed“
  • The Syrian army had sent forces to the area, where Daesh attacks are common

BEIRUT: Daesh group militants killed three Syrian soldiers in an attack Tuesday on an army position in the Badia desert, a war monitor said.
The militants “attacked a site where... regime forces were stationed,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that a lieutenant colonel and two soldiers died.
The Syrian army had sent forces to the area, where Daesh attacks are common, ahead of an expected wider sweep, said the Britain-based Observatory which has a network of sources inside the country.
In an attack on May 3, Daesh fighters killed at least 15 Syrian pro-government fighters when they targeted three military positions in the desert, the Observatory had reported.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a so-called caliphate and launching a reign of terror.
It was defeated territorially in Syria in 2019, but its remnants still carry out deadly attacks, particularly against pro-government forces and Kurdish-led fighters in Badia desert.
Syria’s war has claimed more than half a million lives and displaced millions more since it erupted in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


At least 9 Egyptian women and children die when vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

At least 9 Egyptian women and children die when vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River
Updated 21 May 2024
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At least 9 Egyptian women and children die when vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

At least 9 Egyptian women and children die when vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River
  • The accident, which happened in Monshat el-Kanater town in Giza province, also injured nine other passengers

CAIRO: At least nine Egyptian women and children died Tuesday when a small bus carrying about two dozen people slid off a ferry and plunged into the Nile River just outside Cairo, health authorities said.
The accident, which happened in Monshat el-Kanater town in Giza province, injured nine other passengers, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Giza is one of three provinces forming Greater Cairo.
Six of the injured were treated at the site while three others were transferred to hospitals. The ministry didn’t elaborate on their injuries.
A list of the nine dead obtained by The Associated Press showed four were minors.
Giza provincial Gov. Ahmed Rashed said the bus was retrieved from the river and rescue efforts were still underway as of midday Tuesday.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.
According to the state-owned Akhbar daily, about two dozen passengers, mostly women, were in the vehicle heading to work when the accident occurred. It said security forces detained the vehicle driver.
Ferry, railway and road accidents are common in Egypt, mainly because of poor maintenance and lack of regulations. In February, a ferry carrying day laborers sank in the Nile in Giza, killing at least 10 of the 15 people on board.


Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says
Updated 21 May 2024
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Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says
  • Statement stated that Asma would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate

DUBAI: Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad, has been diagnosed with leukemia, the Syrian presidency said on Tuesday, almost five years after she announced she had fully recovered from breast cancer.
The statement said Asma, 48, would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate, and that she would step away from public engagements as a result.
In August 2019, Asma said she had fully recovered from breast cancer that she said had been discovered early.
Since Syria plunged into war in 2011, the British-born former investment banker has taken on the public role of leading charity efforts and meeting families of killed soldiers, but has also become hated by the opposition.
She runs the Syria Trust for Development, a large NGO that acts as an umbrella organization for many of the aid and development operations in Syria.
Last year, she accompanied her husband, President Bashar Assad ,on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, her first known official trip abroad with him since 2011. She met Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Emirati president’s mother, during a trip seen as a public signal of her growing role in public affairs.


Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province
Updated 21 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province
  • The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb

DUBAI: Yemen’s Houthis downed a US MQ9 drone over Al-Bayda province in southern Yemen, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesperson said in a televised statement on Tuesday.

Yahya Saree said the drone was targeted with a locally made surface-to-air missile and that videos to support the claim would be released.

The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb.

The group, which controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas of the Arabian Peninsula state, has attacked international shipping in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas militants, drawing US and British retaliatory strikes since February.