Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return, UN refugee chief says

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A Syrian refugee girl stands at the door of her family’s tent at a camp set up outside the northern Lebanese village of Miniara, in the area of Akkar near the border with Syria, on May 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Syrian displaced families, who fled violence after the Turkish offensive in Syria, stand in queue to get their food from Barzani charity at a refugee camp in Bardarash on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq in 2019. (Reuters/File)
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Syrian refugee children sit outside their tent at a camp set up outside the northern Lebanese village of Miniara, in the area of Akkar near the border with Syria, on May 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return, UN refugee chief says

  • Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the Gaza war and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed what happens if refugee questions are left unaddressed
  • “If you leave it unattended ... it comes back with a vengeance”

BRUSSELS: The Syrian government and international aid donors must both do more if they want millions of Syrians forced to flee the country by war to return home, the UN’s refugee chief has said.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the Gaza war and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed what happens if refugee questions are left unaddressed.
“If you leave it unattended ... it comes back with a vengeance,” Grandi told Reuters in Brussels on the sidelines of a European Union-led conference on aid for Syrians.
The forum yielded pledges of 7.5 billion euros in grants and loans for coming years, the EU said on Monday evening.
But 13 years after an uprising against President Bashar Assad spiralled into war, the fate of more than five million Syrian refugees living outside the country is increasingly contentious.
Lebanese politicians have been pushing for more refugees to be sent home. Some 800,000 Syrians are registered with the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, whose authorities say the true number of Syrians in the country is around two million.
The issue has also risen up Europe’s political agenda, with EU member Cyprus concerned that large numbers of refugees unwelcome in Lebanon will arrive on its shores.
But Western nations have not resumed ties with Assad, regarding him as a war criminal — an accusation he denies — and saying Syria is still unsafe for large-scale returns.
Some Arab states began re-engaging with Assad in the aftermath of a deadly 2023 earthquake but had little success in convincing him to create conditions for refugee returns.
Speaking on Monday evening, Grandi said he could not tell Western countries how to engage with Assad, but they could fund humanitarian work inside Syria by organizations such as his own.
“Something has got to give in all this, you know?” he said. “You cannot have the cake and eat it. You have to invest if you want solutions.”

VOLUNTARY RETURNS
Grandi said refugees should only return voluntarily – and this could only happen if they felt safe in Syria and could rely on basics such as housing and ways to earn a living.
For Syrian authorities, this meant providing security and solving bureaucratic problems such as documentation.
“It’s slow progress, but we’re working on it,” Grandi said. He said he told Assad last year he had a “huge confidence gap” with his own people, who need convincing they can trust him.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war and about 150,000 remain unaccounted for.
Many of the country’s schools, water supplies and electricity stations have been destroyed. A devastating economic crunch has added to the country’s woes in recent years.
Western aid donors had an important part to play too, Grandi said, with more funding for projects inside Syria.
“We have a program in Syria, but it is not very well funded,” he said, adding one flagship scheme had only received between 30 percent and 35 percent of the required funding.
“We need to invest more to create conditions for people to go back,” he said.


Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on citizens waiting for aid in Gaza, medical sources say

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Nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strike on citizens waiting for aid in Gaza, medical sources say

GAZA: Nine Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike that hit a group of citizens and merchants in the southern Gaza Strip as they waited for convoys of aid trucks carrying goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing, medical sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Israeli military has announced a daily humanitarian “pause” in fighting on a key road in eastern Rafah, but a United Nations spokesman said days later that “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need.”
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine.
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been shut since Israeli troops seized its Palestinian side in early May, while nearby Kerem Shalom on the Israeli border “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area,” said UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
He told reporters that in recent weeks, there had been “an improvement” in aid reaching northern Gaza “but a drastic deterioration in the south.”

Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit

Updated 9 min 38 sec ago
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Military escalation in southern Lebanon after US envoy’s visit

  • Hochstein reassures Mikati on ‘positive atmosphere’ regarding Biden’s Gaza ceasefire plan
  • Hezbollah shells Kiryat Shmona after 3 members were killed in raid on Yaroun

BEIRUT: Hostilities flared between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in southern Lebanon on Wednesday following a visit by US envoy Amos Hochstein to Beirut and Tel Aviv.

Opinions varied on the outcome of Hochstein’s visit, which aimed to reduce tensions between Hezbollah and Israel on Lebanon’s southern border.

A political observer noted an “unsettling atmosphere” amid the visit — Hochstein’s trip coincided with Hezbollah’s release of aerial drone footage captured inside Israel, showing military bases and the Haifa port.

The footage, released by the group on Tuesday, alarmed and angered Israeli military observers.

Media reports on Wednesday from Beirut said that Hochstein reassured caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the atmosphere was “positive” regarding US President Joe Biden’s initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Hochstein said that the situation was “under control.”

Hezbollah has said that any ceasefire on Lebanon’s southern border will only be reached following a truce in the Gaza Strip.

A Paris meeting earlier this month between President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron focused on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Several Hezbollah members and civilians were killed and injured in fresh violence as Hochstein left the region.

Hezbollah said on Wednesday it fired dozens of Katyusha rockets and artillery rounds at a barracks in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, in retaliation for the Israeli attacks on Yarun and Khiam.

The group said it targeted the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade — affiliated with the 91st Division — at the Kiryat Shmona barracks with rockets and artillery shells.

Israeli media reported that about 20 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward Kiryat Shmona.

Haaretz quoted the Israeli army as saying that about 10 rockets were fired toward the town, causing damage to infrastructure and property.

Sirens and Israel’s Iron Dome air defense was activated in Israeli settlements near the Lebanese border.

Since Wednesday morning, southern Lebanon has faced Israeli attacks, injuring civilians residing near targeted sites.

Army artillery shelled the outskirts of the border towns of Taybeh and Hula.

The city of Khiam was targeted with heavy shells, causing significant damage to a healthcare center belonging to the Amel Association International.

Israeli aerial and artillery attacks targeted the outskirts of the towns of Aita Al-Shaab, Shebaa, Odaisseh, Rachaya Al-Foukhar, Tallouseh, Bani Haiyyan and Mays Al-Jabal.

The head of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, MP Fadi Alame, counted “more than 5,000 Israeli attacks on Lebanon since the southern front opened over eight months ago, resulting in the death of more than 400 people and over 15,000 injuries.”

The MP added that Israel had used “internationally banned phosphorous bombs, affecting more than 12,000 hectares of land, while more than 75 schools were damaged.”

Israeli aerial and artillery attacks reached the outskirts of Aita Al-Shaab, Chebaa, Odaisseh, Rachaya Al-Fakhar, Tallouseh, Bani Haiyyan and Mays Al-Jabal.

Israeli jets raided Yaroun in Bint Jbeil, killing three people. Hezbollah mourned the deaths of Hassan Mohammed Ali Saab, 54, from Yaroun in southern Lebanon; Jihad Ahmad Hayek, 25, from the south of the village of Adshit; and Hassan Al-Mujtaba Youssef Ahmad, 27, from Rchaf.

An Israeli military drone targeted a car in Wazzani, but the driver escaped by jumping out of the vehicle upon seeing the drone.

The coastal area between Borgholiyeh and Chabriha in Tyre was also targeted.

In response to the raid on Borgholiyeh, Hezbollah carried out “an aerial attack with a fleet of attack drones targeting gatherings and positions of Israeli soldiers inside the Metula settlement, causing confirmed hits.”

According to an Israeli army investigation reported on by Israel’s Ynet, one of the three Hezbollah surveillance drones that infiltrated Israeli airspace was shot down.

Also on Wednesday, Hezbollah commemorated the death of a senior field commander, Taleb Sami Abdallah, in Beirut’s southern suburb. He was killed by Israel a week ago.

 


Head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah threatens Israel, Cyprus in televised address

An image grab taken from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV on June 19, 2024, shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving an address.
Updated 19 June 2024
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Head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah threatens Israel, Cyprus in televised address

  • Hezbollah chief: “There will be no place safe from our missiles and our drones” in Israel in the event of broader war
  • Nasrallah also threatened Cyprus for the first time, saying it had been allowing Israel to use its airports and bases for military exercises

BEIRUT: The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Wednesday that nowhere in Israel would be safe if a full-fledged war breaks out between the two foes, and he also threatened Cyprus and other parts of the Mediterannean.
Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel for more than eight months in parallel with the Gaza War. On Tuesday, the Iran-backed group published what it said was drone footage of sensitive military sites deep in Israeli territory.
In a televised address on Wednesday, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said “there will be no place safe from our missiles and our drones” in Israel in the event of a broader war.
The group also had “a bank of targets” that it could target in precision strikes, he said.
Israel “knows that what also awaits it in the Mediterranean is very big,” Nasrallah added, without elaborating.
The group first showed it could hit a vessel at sea by striking an Israeli warship in the Mediterranean during their 2006 war.
Reports by media and analysts have for years indicated that Hezbollah acquired Russian-made anti-ship Yakhont missiles in Syria, after its forces deployed there more than a decade ago to help President Bashar Assad fight the country’s civil war.
Nasrallah also threatened Cyprus for the first time, saying it had been allowing Israel to use its airports and bases for military exercises.
“The Cypriot government must be warned that opening Cypriot airports and bases for the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon means that the Cypriot government has become part of the war and the resistance (Hezbollah) will deal with it as part of the war,” Nasrallah said.
Cyprus is not known to offer any land or base facilities to the Israeli military, but has in the past allowed Israel to use its vast airspace — its flight information region (FIR) — to occasionally conduct air drills, but never during conflict.
Sovereign British military bases have been used for operations in Syria and more recently, Yemen. The Cyprus government has no say in the matter. There are two British bases in Cyprus, which was a colony until 1960.


Jerusalem official takes on French consulate after Israel arms show ban

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor has asked for rubbish not to be collected from the French consulate (pictured above).
Updated 19 June 2024
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Jerusalem official takes on French consulate after Israel arms show ban

  • Organizers of the Eurosatory trade show just outside Paris said last month French authorities had banned Israeli firms
  • A City Hall statement said King’s request would not be implemented

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, an ultranationalist Israeli politician, has asked for rubbish not to be collected from the French consulate after Paris barred Israeli firms from an arms show.
Organizers of the Eurosatory trade show just outside Paris said last month French authorities had banned Israeli firms, with the French defense ministry attributing the decision the Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip’s Rafah city.
Deputy Mayor Arieh King posted on social media platform X a letter he had addressed to the municipal sanitation department, asking “to instruct Jerusalem municipal maintenance workers to cease immediately garbage removal service from the French consulate building.”
A City Hall statement said King’s request would not be implemented.
In his letter, he denounced “traitorous and anti-Israeli conduct” by French President Emmanuel Macron, who King said aimed “to harm the State of Israel and Israeli industry,” in an apparent reference to the French expo move.
“As the City Hall of Israel’s capital, we must not stand idly by and accept the French president’s decision to stand alongside the Hamas terrorist organization,” King wrote.
France has an embassy in the coastal city of Tel Aviv and a consulate in Jerusalem which also serves Palestinians in the city’s Israeli-annexed east as well as the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent state, while Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital.
The Jerusalem City Hall told AFP in a statement that garbage collection would continue at the French consulate.
“The Jerusalem municipality removes trash from all parts of the city on a professional basis and provides the best service to all its residents,” it said.
A municipal official, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the press, told AFP King has no authority to decide on such a move.
French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu has told French media it was inappropriate to host Israeli weapons manufacturers and defense firms at the expo given Macron’s calls for an end to the fighting in Rafah, which went unheeded.
Israel, which has vowed to crush Hamas militants in Gaza following the group’s October 7 attack, sent ground troops into the far-southern city in early May despite widespread concern for Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
Seventy-four Israeli firms were set to take part in the Eurosatory event which opened on Monday. Organizers said about 10 of them were planning to exhibit weapons.
“By decision of the government authorities, there will be no stand for the Israeli defense industry at the Eurosatory 2024 fair,” Coges Events had said in a statement confirming the ban.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week condemned “hostile policies against Israel” by France, in remarks rejected by other senior officials.


Germany cancels arrest warrant for Lebanon’s ex-central bank chief

German authorities have canceled their arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former central bank chief Riad Salameh for technical reasons
Updated 19 June 2024
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Germany cancels arrest warrant for Lebanon’s ex-central bank chief

  • The cancelation had come after an appeal from the defendant, and because he no longer held the position of central bank chief
  • The regional court of Munich had “confirmed the urgent suspicion with regard to the offenses charged against the defendant“

MUNICH/BEIRUT: German authorities have canceled their arrest warrant for Lebanon’s former central bank chief for technical reasons, but are continuing their probe and keeping his assets frozen, the Munich prosecutor’s office told Reuters on Wednesday.
Riad Salameh, 73, was Lebanon’s central bank governor for 30 years until July 2023. In his final months as governor, Germany issued an arrest warrant for him on corruption charges, two sources in Lebanon told Reuters.
Responding to questions from Reuters, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor’s office confirmed on Wednesday that the arrest warrant was canceled on June 10.
The spokeswoman said the cancelation had come after an appeal from the defendant, and because he no longer held the position of central bank chief — meaning there was “no longer any risk that he will suppress evidence in this function.”
She said the regional court of Munich had “confirmed the urgent suspicion with regard to the offenses charged against the defendant” and that Germany’s “investigations are ongoing.”
Salameh declined a Reuters request for comment on the development.
Salameh and his brother Raja are being investigated in Lebanon and at least five European countries for allegedly taking hundreds of millions of dollars from Lebanon’s central bank and laundering the funds abroad. They deny the accusations.
Germany confirmed in February that it was conducting money laundering investigations into Salameh and his brother, and had issued an arrest warrant.
The Munich public prosecutor’s office said in February it had also seized three commercial properties in Munich and Hamburg with a total value of around 28 million euros, and shares worth around seven million euros in a Duesseldorf-based property company, as part of the case.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office said it had “dismissed as unfounded” an appeal against the seizure order, which it said dated back to Jan. 26, 2023.
Lebanese judge Helene Iskandar, who has charged Salameh in a separate case in Lebanon and has been following up on the foreign probes into him, confirmed on Wednesday that the warrant had been canceled but that Germany’s investigation into Salameh would remain open.
Salameh still faces an arrest warrant in France as part of its own investigation into whether he embezzled public funds, as well as a resultant Interpol red notice.