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Lebanese President Aoun Calls for Safe Zones in Syria for Refugees | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (R) meets with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at the presidental palace in Baabda, Lebanon, February 3, 2017. Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters

Lebanese President Michel Aoun urged on Friday world powers to coordinate with Damascus to establish a series of safe zones in Syria so refugees can go back to their country.

It was the first time the Beirut government had showed its backing to such a plan. At least a million people have fled the war-torn Syrian since 2011 into Lebanon, which has an estimated total population of less than six million.

In a meeting with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Friday, Aoun stressed that Lebanon would not force unsafe return on any refugees, but the international community must make their return possible. It is “important to achieve a political solution” to the conflict in Syria, Aoun added.

U.S. President Trump said last week he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for refugees fleeing violence and that Europe had made a mistake by admitting millions of refugees.

According to a document seen by Reuters, Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and the State Department to craft such a plan, a move that could ratchet up U.S. military involvement in Syria.

The Syrian government said on Monday that any attempt to create so-called safe zones for refugees without coordinating with Damascus would be “unsafe” and violate Syria’s sovereignty.

Rebel backers including Qatar have welcomed Trump’s support for safe zones, and Turkey says it is waiting to see the outcome of the U.S. president’s pledge.

Almost six years of war has divided Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by Assad’s government, various rebel groups, Kurdish militia and ISIS militants.

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, made more than half of Syrians homeless and created the world’s worst refugee crisis.