Syria crisis: Syria envoy discussing return of refugees to ‘safe areas’

syria_ambassador_LebanonBEIRUT: Syria is discussing with Lebanon the return of refugees to areas of Syria the government is rebuilding, the country’s envoy said Thursday.

“We are coordinating with the Foreign Minister and the Lebanese government on finding common ground that guarantees the best care and safe return of Syrian refuges to areas the government is rebuilding in a swift manner,” Ali Abdel-Karim Ali told reporters after meeting with Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour.

“Syria is the only safe haven for its citizens providing them with dignity more than any other country,” he added.

Mansour has said that part of the government’s plan to cope with the rising number of refugees is to guarantee their return to safe areas in Syria, which has been battling rebel groups for over a year.

Ali also said that he and Mansour discussed the need to prevent the smuggling of arms and gunmen through Lebanon’s border, which the Syrian envoy said was damaging to both countries.

“We don’t mean expelling the refugees, but that Syria has increased safety by a large percentage in its areas, as extremist and terrorist groups have become weaker,” Ali said, adding that the number of refugees will decrease when the funding of armed groups ends.

As the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has risen to more than 200,000, the government has adopted a comprehensive plan that requires $180 million to meet the rising needs.

Ali also spoke about protests against the Syrian Embassy in Lebanon, saying they are politically motivated and highlight divisions in the country.

“These demands are based on motives that have nothing to do with the Constitution, the brotherly ties or even the embassy’s behavior,” Ali said.

“We are the mission that is most keen on committing to diplomatic norms and traditions and you can evaluate these protests and see that they express political goals and divisions within Lebanon,” he added.

The March 14 coalition have called for the dismissal of Ali, increasing their protests after Syrian officials were accused of plotting terror attacks on Lebanon with the help of former Minister Michel Samaha.

The most recent protest was over the weekend when a group of student supporters of the Kataeb and National Liberal Party held a brief demonstration near the Syrian Embassy in Yarze, accusing Ali of behaving as though “Syria’s tutelage” still existed over Lebanon.

The protesters also accused Ali of violating diplomatic norms.

In the largest protest so far, hundreds of students affiliated with the opposition group gathered last August to demand the expulsion of the Syrian official.

As for the judiciary’s decision to question Syria’s intelligence chief Gen. Ali Mamlouk, the envoy said reports by the media have shown that the case was entrapment on the part of Lebanese security forces against Michel Samaha.