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Russia Advises Lebanon for Direct Contacts with Syrian Regime

Russia Advises Lebanon for Direct Contacts with Syrian Regime

Thursday, 9 May, 2019 - 06:00
Putin and Aoun shake hands during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. AP photo
Beirut - Khalil Fleihan
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry has stressed that a Russian initiative launched last year to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland remains active amid skepticism about its fate.

“The Russian initiative is still alive and Moscow advised Beirut to directly contact the Syrian regime, because dealing with the regime helps address the financial difficulties arising from the matter,” Amal Abu Zeid, representing Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in the Russian-Lebanese committee, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday.

Abu Zeid said Russia also recommended that Lebanese parties unify their stances on the Syrian refugee crisis. “This would strengthen the position of Lebanon in any future talks on the matter.”

Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin has said on several occasions that Syria had readied villages and the infrastructure to receive refugees returning from Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri rejects any political ties with the regime of Bashar Assad while some parties back such direct contact.

Despite his stance, the PM hasn’t objected to the role played by General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to handle the return of displaced Syrians in buses after receiving the green light to enter Syrian territories.

Several Lebanese officials have expressed dissatisfaction with the handling of the issue, sources said. Among them is President Michel Aoun, who during talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow in March, raised concern over the continued presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Aoun has also brought up the issue with several European officials who have recently visited Beirut, the sources said.

The UN has said that a total of 944,613 Syrian refugees are present in Lebanon.

A diplomatic source in Beirut told Asharq Al-Awsat that Assad has not heeded Russia’s request for limiting the conditions imposed on Syrians wishing to return home.

Moscow had asked Damascus to grant amnesty to refugees that have avoided military service, and to decrease their resettlement fine from $8,000 to $4,000 because most Syrians are unable to pay such a sum.

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