Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Lebanon: Warnings on Proposal for ‘Voluntary Return’ of Syrian Refugees | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Syrian refugee receives aid from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Batroun, northern Lebanon January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

Beirut- There have been warnings on a proposal for the “voluntary return” of Syrian refugees as “Hezbollah” deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem accused the United States and the European Union of seeking to block the return of the displaced to Syria.

The Lebanese government is divided on whether to coordinate with the Syrian regime on the return of the refugees, whose numbers, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), have dropped to 200,000 since 2015.

While Prime Minister Saad Hariri, backed by ministers of the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, have staunchly rejected any contacts with Damascus, researcher Radwan al-Sayyed warned of an alternative plan on the “voluntary return” of refugees.

Al-Sayyed told Asharq Al-Awsat that General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim “visited Damascus twice this week.”

Ibrahim had in the past acted as an intermediary between the Beirut government and the Syrian regime, carrying out deals that led to the release of kidnapped Lebanese pilgrims in Syria’s Azaz and the freeing of Lebanese servicemen taken hostage by militants in the northeastern border town of Arsal.

Hariri insists that the return of the refugees is the responsibility of the United Nations.

But Qassem stressed on Friday that “the ones preventing the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Syria are America and the European Union because the return of the displaced to their country means that the regime of Bashar Assad can run a state, protect security and receive those (refugees) to live under his protection.”

His statement is considered the first accusation made by “Hezbollah” to international parties on the alleged obstruction of the return of refugees.

The issue of the refugees’ return heated up in the past week following an assault last Friday on Lebanese army patrols carrying out raids in two Syrian refugee encampments on the outskirts of Arsal.