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Lebanon: Ministers Disagree over Return of Syrian Refugees | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Lebanon’s cabinet convened Wednesday at the Baabda Palace (Dalati & Nohra)

Beirut – Lebanon’s cabinet session held on Wednesday at the Baabda Palace saw disagreements between ministers over the return of the displaced Syrians to their country.

While ministers, who support Bashar Assad, called for cooperation with the Syrian regime to achieve the quick return of refugees, other ministers from the so-called March 14 alliance have rejected any political negotiation with Assad, stressing the need for a return process that would be held under security, political and humanitarian guarantees by the United Nations.

Wednesday’s cabinet session was chaired by President Michel Aoun, and followed tense remarks by ministers, some of whom warned against “handing over the refugees to the regime that had abandoned them, and drove them to flee death.”

However, Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged the March 14 ministers to avoid raising the refugee file during the session, noting at the beginning of the meeting that the issue of communication with the Syrian regime was controversial.

“We want the return of the refugees to their country today before tomorrow, but it is the responsibility of the United Nations, which has to put a safe plan for this return,” Hariri said, adding that an agreement was reached over the need to put the files that create differences aside.

This has not stopped Minister Ali Qanso from stating during the meeting: “Should the Lebanese government fail to cooperate with the Syrian regime, displaced will not return to Syria.”

His comments sparked strong criticism by Minister Michel Pharaon, who told Asharq Al-Awsat that Qanso’s remarks were “provocative and involve threats.”

During the meeting, Hariri announced he would be visiting the United States to meet US President Donald Trump. He will also travel in August to France and Russia on official visits.

For his part, Aoun commended the judiciary to play a key role in reducing security breaches and stressed the need for coordination with the country’s security forces.

In a news conference following the session, Information Minister Melhem Riachi said that the president raised recent security issues in the country, praising the role of the Lebanese Army and the security forces and warned against refugee camps “being transformed into hubs for terrorism.”