‘Lebanon is not for sale’: Minister calls for hard-line approach to Syrian refugees

Minister of Interior and Municipalities Bassam Mawlawi, Beirut, Lebanon, March 31, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 04 October 2023
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‘Lebanon is not for sale’: Minister calls for hard-line approach to Syrian refugees

  • Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi claimed more than 30% of crime in Lebanon is committed by Syrians, and the country’s identity is under threat
  • 805,326 refugees are officially registered with the UN’s refugee agency but Lebanese authorities estimate the total number exceeds 2 million

BEIRUT: Bassam Mawlawi, Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, said on Wednesday that his country “will not allow the random Syrian presence.”

He claimed that “a large percentage, exceeding 30 percent, of various and major crimes are committed by Syrians in Lebanon” and “cooperation” is required “to preserve our environment and our country’s identity.”

His comments came against the backdrop of growing concern in Lebanon about the increasing numbers of Syrian refugees crossing the border.

“Lebanon cannot carry on with the same leniency toward the Syrian presence,” Mawlawi said. “We must limit the number of Syrians present in each apartment and we will not allow more than one family to reside in it.”

The aim “is not to regulate the Syrian presence but rather to limit it,” he added.

The number of Syrian refugees officially registered with the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, had fallen to 805,326 by the end of March, but officials believes the true figure is double that.

Lebanese authorities, who asked the UN agency to stop registering new refugees in 2015, estimate the total number of Syrians in the country now exceeds 2 million. They fear the presence of so many refugees will cause a shift in the demographic balance along sectarian lines.

During meetings with governors and mayors, Mawlawi asked authorities not to sign any contracts for Syrians who do not possess proper, legal documentation, and called for Lebanese laws to be applied in full to Syrians just as they are to Lebanese citizens.

“We will not accept the exploitation of our country and changing its demographics in exchange for money,” Mawlawi said.

“Lebanon is not for sale and we are working as a permanent beehive to address the crisis and stand against the immense harm inflicted on Lebanon, the Lebanese people, and Lebanese demographics as a result of the chaos and unacceptable behavior due to the Syrian displacement.”

Syrians are said to run about 4,000 businesses in central and western Bekaa. In the town of Bar Elias alone, about 1,700 out of a total of 2,000 are run by Syrians. In Taalabaya, there are 450, and in Qab Elias, 350.

As part of the tightening of controls on refugees, the Ministry of Industry on Wednesday renewed a warning to factory owners that they must not hire Syrians who do not possess the required legal documents and permits, otherwise they could lose their licenses to operate.

The crisis caused by the growing numbers of Syrians entering Lebanon via illegal crossings along the northern and eastern borders has escalated in the past two weeks. Concerns grew further when Lebanese security services seized weapons last week during raids on refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley.

The anti-refugee sentiment in Lebanon was further fueled by a statement on Tuesday from the official spokesperson for the EU in the Middle East and North Africa, Luis Miguel Bueno, who said. “There is no return for Syrian refugees at the present time and they must be assisted in Lebanon. The conditions for refugees to return to Syria with dignity and voluntarily are not available.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah earlier sparked controversy when he suggested Lebanon should adopt a policy of “not preventing Syrian refugees from sailing toward Europe.”

He said: “Let them board ships, not just rubber boats, and head toward Europe, and this will lead to an inevitable outcome, which is that European countries will come submissively to Beirut.”

On Wednesday, MP Ghayath Yazbeck said the Lebanese Forces Party’s parliamentary bloc is considering signing a parliamentary petition demanding the closure of the UNHCR office in Lebanon, “because the commission is now promoting the new Syrian occupation of Lebanon.”

He blamed the recent Syrian influx on the Lebanese government, “which does not mobilize its powers to control this situation and mitigate its impact,” and criticized the Free Patriotic Movement for its refusal to organize a Cabinet session to discuss possible solutions to this imminent threat.

A number of organizations have emerged with the aim of confronting or addressing the presence of so many Syrian refugees in Lebanon, one of which is the National Campaign to Repatriate Displaced Syrians.

One of its leaders, Maroun Al-Khauli, sent a letter to UNHCR’s regional office in which he accused it of working to “settle Syrian refugees by supporting them financially and morally, encouraging them not to return to their land, and urging them to integrate into Lebanese society.”

As the unrest grows, Lebanese security agencies have warned of “kidnapping operations targeting Syrian people by gangs that lure them outside Lebanese borders to avoid detection, through fake social media accounts, most notably on TikTok.”

These gangs “deceive lured Syrians into believing that they can secure their travel from Lebanon to European countries, either through illegal routes or by securing travel visas abroad, in exchange for a financial fee,” the General Directorate of Internal Security Forces said.

“The victims are kidnapped upon arrival at the border areas with Lebanon, then transported outside the Lebanese borders and detained inside rooms within Syrian territory near the borders. There, they are brutally tortured and the torture acts are filmed, and photos and videos are sent to the kidnapped person’s family to pressure them and expedite the payment of a ransom in exchange for their release.”

In the past two days, video clips of one of these victims being tortured spread on social media but news organizations have not broadcast them because of the graphic nature of the footage.


Israeli strikes target Lebanon’s Baalbek for first time since Gaza war

Updated 26 February 2024
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Israeli strikes target Lebanon’s Baalbek for first time since Gaza war

  • The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago
  • Israel’s air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks

BEIRUT: The Israeli military said Monday its air force was striking targets of the militant Hebollah group “deep inside Lebanon,” where residents reported explosions near the northeastern city of Baalbek.
The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago. They come a day after Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to step up attacks on Lebanon’s Hezbollah even if a cease-fire is reached with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Lebanese security officials said Israel’s air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks. Buday is a Hezbollah stronghold. There was no immediate word on casualties.
A Hezbollah official confirmed that three strikes hit near Baalbek. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The Israeli army said further details will follow.
The airstrikes near Baalbek came hours after Hezbollah said its fighters on Monday shot down an Israeli drone over its stronghold in a province in southern Lebanon. Anotehr missile fired by Hezbollah toward the drone was intercepted by Israel, and landed near a synagogue in a town close to Nazareth in northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage.
Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israeli troops along the border since the Israel-Hamas broke on Oct. 7.
The strike on Baalbek, because of its location deep inside Lebanon, is the most significant one since the early January airstrike on Beirut that killed top Hamas official Saleh Arouri.
Hezbollah, which has been exchanging fire with Israel throughout the war in Gaza, has said it will halt its nearly daily attacks on Israel if a cease-fire is reached in Gaza.


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

  • Move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up Palestinian Authority
  • Shtayyeh says he is resigning to allow broader consensus among Palestinians following Israel’s war on Gaza

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


UAE floating hospital begins operations at Al-Arish to treat Palestinian patients

Updated 26 February 2024
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UAE floating hospital begins operations at Al-Arish to treat Palestinian patients

AL-ARISH: A floating hospital provided by the UAE, anchored in Egypt’s Port city of Al-Arish, commenced operations on Sunday to provide treatment for injured Palestinians.

The initiative is a part of the UAE’s “Gallant Knight 3” humanitarian operation.

The 100-bed hospital has operating rooms, an intensive care unit, radiology section, laboratory and pharmacy, state news agency WAM reported.

A 20-year-old Palestinian man was the first to undergo surgery at the hospital. He was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and injuries caused by shrapnel.

Doctors repositioned his shoulder, and he will require a follow-up operation to repair nerve damage.

The floating hospital was established in cooperation with the Department of Health - Abu Dhabi and AD Ports Group. It is being staffed by 100 medical workers who are skilled in anesthesia, general surgery, orthopedics, and emergency medicine.

Dr. Falah Al-Mahmoud, director of the hospital, said the facility would help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians.

Dr. Falah Al-Mahmoud, director of the hospital, said the facility would help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. (WAM)

 


Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

Updated 26 February 2024
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Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh resigns

  • Palestinian PM says ‘new political measures’ needed amid Gaza war
  • The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority

RAMALLAH: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements following Israel’s war against the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The move comes amid growing US pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to shake up the Palestinian Authority as international efforts have intensified to stop the fighting in Gaza and begin work on a political structure to govern the enclave after the war.
His resignation must still be accepted by Abbas, who may ask him to stay on as caretaker until a permanent replacement is appointed.
In a statement to cabinet, Shtayyeh, an academic economist who took office in 2019, said the next stage would need to take account of the emerging reality in Gaza, which has been laid waste by nearly five months of heavy fighting.
He said the next stage would “require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip, the national unity talks, and the urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus.”
In addition, it would require “the extension of the Authority’s authority over the entire land, Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority, formed 30 years ago under the interim Oslo peace accords, exercises limited governance over parts of the occupied West Bank but lost power in Gaza following a struggle with Hamas in 2007.
Fatah, the faction that controls the PA, and Hamas have made efforts to reach an agreement over a unity government and are due to meet in Moscow on Wednesday. A senior Hamas official said the move had to be followed by a broader agreement on governance for the Palestinians.
“The resignation of Shtayyeh’s government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.


Yemen’s Houthis announce first civilian death in US-UK strikes

Updated 26 February 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis announce first civilian death in US-UK strikes

  • One person was killed and eight wounded a day after US and British forces said they fired on 18 targets
SANAA: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia have reported the first civilian death in US and British air strikes after the latest round of joint raids over the weekend.
One person was killed and eight wounded, the Houthis’ official news agency said late on Sunday, a day after US and British forces said they fired on 18 targets across the country.
The US-British strikes were in response to dozens of Houthi drone and missile attacks on Red Sea shipping since November, which the rebels say are in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.
“The American-British aggression on the district of Maqbana in the governorate of Taiz has left one civilian dead and eight wounded,” the Houthis’ Saba agency said, citing a statement from the rebel-run health ministry.
The Houthis, who control war-torn Yemen’s most populated areas, have previously reported the death of 17 of their fighters in the Western strikes targeting military facilities.
The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea route, forcing some companies into a two-week detour around southern Africa. Last week, Egypt said Suez Canal revenues were down by up to 50 percent this year.
Washington, Israel’s vital ally, gathered an international coalition in December to protect Red Sea traffic. It has launched several rounds of strikes as well as four joint raids with Britain, which began last month.
The Houthis initially said they were targeting Israel-linked shipping in the Red Sea and adjoining Gulf of Aden, but then declared that US and British interests were also “legitimate” targets.