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Lebanon’s Berri Suggests Approach to Negotiate Syrian Refugees’ Return | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian refugee children at an informal refugee camp in the area of Zahrani, south of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on July 9, 2015. (AFP)

Beirut – Speaker Nabih Berri suggested on Saturday a new approach that allows Beirut to coordinate with Damascus the return of Syrian refugees without making any Lebanese leader visit Syria.

The announcement of Berri comes as “an exit for the crisis,” as ministers are divided over how the government should coordinate with the Syrian regime to solve the issue of the return of Syrian refugees back home.

The Mustaqbal Movement and Lebanese Forces strongly oppose any direct coordination with Damascus and say Lebanon should manage the refugees’ return to Syria only with the United Nations.

Berri said he understands the Mustaqbal’s position in this regard, adding: “However, this does not prevent the presence of coordination.”

The speaker stressed that he completely supports coordinating with the Syrian regime over this issue, however, adding: “We ask no Lebanese official to visit Syria.”

His approach stipulates that indirect coordination be launched between Lebanon and the Syrian regime, due to the presence of diplomatic relations between Beirut and Damascus.

An indirect coordination therefore seems feasible in the presence of embassies, in addition to the presence of security coordination between the two sides, currently led by General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim.

Lebanese government sources close to forces supporting the coordination with Syria told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that western states were currently coordinating with the authorities in Damascus and that some of them were contacting the regime, adding: “Why can’t Lebanon coordinate with the regime over this issue?”

Former Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that 43 percent of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon come from Syrian areas, which are currently considered safe.

He said the file should be removed from the sphere of internal dispute.

“Lebanon should benefit from Berri’s Arab relations to establish zones suitable for the return of those refugees in Syrian areas where tension has decreased.”