Syrian Authorities Release Prisoners in Presidential Amnesty

A picture from above shows the Eid al-Fitr prayer in a mosque in Idlib, northwest Syria (AFP)
A picture from above shows the Eid al-Fitr prayer in a mosque in Idlib, northwest Syria (AFP)
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Syrian Authorities Release Prisoners in Presidential Amnesty

A picture from above shows the Eid al-Fitr prayer in a mosque in Idlib, northwest Syria (AFP)
A picture from above shows the Eid al-Fitr prayer in a mosque in Idlib, northwest Syria (AFP)

Dozens of prisoners were released in Syria on Monday under the general amnesty issued on the eve of Eid al-Fitr.

A presidential decree called for “granting a general amnesty for terrorist crimes committed by Syrians” before April 30, 2022, “except for those leading to the death of a person,” the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

The new amnesty is considered the widest since the start of the conflict in the country in 2011, according to SANA.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Monday that around 60 detainees, some of whom have been detained for 10 years, have been released across Syria.

According to the new decree, “tens of thousands of detainees” are expected to be released, many of whom are accused of “terrorism offences,” which director of SOHR Rami Abdel Rahman described as “a loose label used to convict those who are arbitrarily arrested.”

SOHR data shows that more than 105,000 detainees have been killed under torture in regime prisons since 2011.

Sources reported the return of a number of detainees to their families on the morning of the first day of Eid al-Fitr, as well as the release of dozens of prisoners from several Syrian governorates, including detainees in Sednaya Military Prison, which is one of the most dangerous detention centers inspired by the Soviet architectural style.

Among the released were people who have been sentenced to death, including a detainee from the town of Al-Otaiba in Eastern Ghouta. Others had been detained for more than ten years while their relatives did not have any information about their fate.

President Bashar al-Assad has previously issued several amnesty decrees, the last of which was in May last year, weeks before his re-election as president for a fourth tenure.

Half a million people have entered regime prisons and detention centers since 2011, with around 100,000 dying under torture or as a result of horrific detention conditions, according to SOHR.

Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, accuse the Syrian regime of exploiting anti-terror laws to “condemn peaceful activists.” The Syrian regime is also accused of torturing inmates to death, of rape, sexual assaults and extrajudicial executions.



Lebanese Gangs Control Crossings on Syria Border

Lebanese-Syrian border crossing (Central News Agency)
Lebanese-Syrian border crossing (Central News Agency)
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Lebanese Gangs Control Crossings on Syria Border

Lebanese-Syrian border crossing (Central News Agency)
Lebanese-Syrian border crossing (Central News Agency)

The story of Lebanese Forces coordinator Pascal Sleiman’s murder on April 7 is still unfolding. His body was found in a Syrian village near Lebanon’s Hermel district, where stolen cars often cross into Syria from Lebanon due to lax border control.

This incident isn’t isolated; investigations show the perpetrators moved freely from Jbeil to Lebanese villages near Hermel.

Recently, during daylight hours, unidentified individuals kidnapped Syrian Mohammed Ghasab on the international road between the Lebanese towns of Riyaq and Baalbek, near Brital town’s entrance.

They took him into Syria through an illegal crossing, having lured him via social media ads about traveling to Europe. The General Directorate of Internal Security Forces had warned against such traps set by professional gangs.

Ghasab’s wife, Nariman Al-Munawar, received a ransom demand of $35,000 to release him, with instructions to send photos of the cash.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Munawar reaffirmed that she’s struggling to provide for her five children and wonders how she’ll come up with the ransom money.

Lebanon still struggles to control its border with Syria, where Syrian villages have become havens for criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, car theft, and even human trafficking.

These areas, inhabited mostly by Lebanese, operate independently from state control.

They're connected to Lebanon and Syria by 17 illegal crossings, each with names like Alam Crossing and Nasser al-Din Crossing.

Lebanese authorities can only access these areas by coordinating with Syrian security, and vice versa.

Around 8,000 people live in these villages.

An unnamed security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that smuggling of humans, food, and stolen cars between Syria and Lebanon is rampant through these border crossings.

Gangs dealing in drugs and weapons operate freely in these areas, with visible weapons and no authority to stop them.

This activity spans a 22-kilometer border stretch from Al-Qaa to Saqiet al-Jisr, reaching the North Lebanon Governorate’s borders.

Despite efforts to control the borders, the situation remains chaotic.


UN Warns: Crisis of ‘Epic Proportions’ in Sudan

Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo briefs the 15-member Security Council on the situation in Sudan (UN)
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo briefs the 15-member Security Council on the situation in Sudan (UN)
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UN Warns: Crisis of ‘Epic Proportions’ in Sudan

Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo briefs the 15-member Security Council on the situation in Sudan (UN)
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo briefs the 15-member Security Council on the situation in Sudan (UN)

The year-old war in Sudan between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has sparked a crisis of epic proportions fueled by weapons from foreign supporters who continue to flout UN sanctions aimed at helping end the conflict, the UN political chief has said.

Briefing the 15-member Security Council on the situation in Sudan, Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo said Friday that fighting has spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas and the western Darfur region.

She then painted a dire picture of the war's impact of over 14,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded, looming famine with 25 million people in need of life-saving assistance, and over 8.6 million forced to flee their homes.

Man-Made Crisis

DiCarlo said that since April 15, 2023, the Sudanese people have endured unbearable suffering.

She mentioned reports of widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the recruitment of children by parties to the conflict and the extensive use of torture and prolonged arbitrary detention by both parties.

“Thousands of homes, schools, hospitals, and other essential civilian infrastructure have been destroyed. The war has wrecked large swathes of the country’s productive sectors, crippling the economy,” the UN political chief told the Security Council.

In short, DiCarlo described the situation in Sudan as “a crisis of epic proportions. It is also wholly man-made.”

Dire Picture

Echoing that point, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, High Representative for the Silencing the Guns initiative of the African Union Commission, said external interference has been “a major factor” stymying efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and to stop the war.

“External support in terms of supply of war materiel and other means has been the main reason why this war has lasted for so long,” he said via videolink from Post Sudan. “It is the elephant in the room.”

“Yet, the ongoing year-long war has already set Sudan back several decades, he said.

Neither DiCarlo nor Chambas named any of the foreign supporters.

But report said Iran could have sold drones for government forces. Also, the RSF leader, Dagalo, has reportedly received support from Russia's Wagner mercenary group. UN experts said in a recent report that the RSF has also received support from Arab allied communities and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.

Al Fasher and Darfur

Edem Wosornu, the UN humanitarian office's director of operations, said, “I find it particularly distressing to see what has happened in Sudan, given where the country was before this conflict started. A safe refuge for more than 1 million refugees. A regional hub for medical facilities and universities. So much of this is now gone.”

Speaking on behalf of UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, she called on all warring parties to uphold their obligations under international law.

“Extremely concerning levels of conflict-related sexual violence continue to be reported, and aid workers, health workers and local volunteers are being killed, injured, harassed and arrested with impunity,” she said.

In addition, the spiraling violence in recent weeks poses an extreme and immediate danger to the 800,000 civilians who reside in El Fasher and risks triggering further clashes in other parts of Darfur, where more than nine million people are in dire need of assistance, she added.


US Senators Urge Biden to Impose Magnitsky Sanctions on Sudan's Hemedti

Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo (Reuters)
Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo (Reuters)
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US Senators Urge Biden to Impose Magnitsky Sanctions on Sudan's Hemedti

Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo (Reuters)
Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo (Reuters)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has written an open letter to US President Joe Biden, calling on him to swiftly determine whether or not he intends to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with respect to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its leader, General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo, both accused of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

The letter was written by Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Benjamin Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Gregory Meeks, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We jointly request a determination pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of whether Sudan's RSF and its Commander have engaged in activity described in subsection of that Act, such as gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against human rights defenders and persons seeking to expose illegal activity by government officials,” the Senators said in the letter.

War Crimes

The bi-partisan letter, which follows the one-year anniversary of the war in Sudan between the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), mentioned that on December 6, 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the RSF had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing since the outbreak of fighting in Sudan on April 15, 2023.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act authorizes sanctions against foreign persons who commit gross violations of internationally recognized human rights against individuals seeking: to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials; or to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms.

“The actions of the RSF and Hemedti, including those described above, more than meet that threshold,” the Senators affirmed.

RSF’s Financial Networks

The Senators then urged Biden to examine the RSF’s financial networks and sources of revenue, such as gold smuggling, and relationships with Russia and Wagner Group, and to assess whether they are also deserving of sanction under the Magnitsky Act for acts of significant corruption by government officials in Sudan.

The letter mentioned that on September 6, 2023, the US Department of Treasury sanctioned Abdelrahim Hamdan Dagalo, Hemedti's brother, as a leader of the RSF. It had also imposed visa restrictions on RSF General Abdul Rahman Juma.

It also stated that gunmen in RSF uniforms abducted and killed human rights activist and lawyer Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah and his colleague Adam Omer in Nyala, South Sudan, while Khamis Abdullah Abakar, the governor of West Darfur, was assassinated while he was in the custody of the RSF, just hours after he had criticized the RSF in a television interview, describing its actions as “genocide.”

In the letter, the Senators also said human rights lawyers, defenders, and democracy activists in El Geneina, West Darfur, faced targeted threats and killings by the RSF and allied militia, including Mohammed Ahmed Kudia, a member of the Darfur Network of Monitors, Khamis Arabab, a member of the Darfur Bar Association, Khidir Sulieman Abdelmageed, the head of the human rights organization Afkar, Abd Elrazeg Adam Mohammed, a member of the Darfur Network of Monitors, Tareg Hassan Yagoub Elmalik, a founding member of the Darfur Bar Association and El Sadeg Mohammed Ahmed Haroun, a member of the Darfur Bar Association who had filed cases against the RSF for its attacks on the Krinding IDP camp in 2021 and 2022.

Also, there have been numerous reported incidents of the RSF targeting journalists, the letter said, adding that the RSF arbitrarily detained dozens of civilians, including political activists.

Aid

On Friday, Senator Cardin delivered a speech on the Senate floor marking one year since the onset of civil war in Sudan, and called on the US and its international partners to ramp up humanitarian assistance for war-affected Sudanese and for impacted populations in surrounding countries.

Cardin also urged the House of Representatives to pass the national security supplemental without delay to bring needed aid to its partners around the world.


Israeli Troops Raid West Bank Refugee Camp, Gaza Fighting Continues

 An ambulance is seen near an Israeli military vehicle during an Israeli raid, at Nur Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
An ambulance is seen near an Israeli military vehicle during an Israeli raid, at Nur Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israeli Troops Raid West Bank Refugee Camp, Gaza Fighting Continues

 An ambulance is seen near an Israeli military vehicle during an Israeli raid, at Nur Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
An ambulance is seen near an Israeli military vehicle during an Israeli raid, at Nur Shams camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)

Israeli forces fought Palestinian gunmen in the occupied West Bank on Saturday in the second day of a raid that has so far left at least two people dead, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, while fighting also continued in Gaza.

Israeli forces launched the raid on the Nur Shams area, near the Palestinian city of Tulkarm, on Friday. A number of gunmen were killed and more arrested, the Israeli military said, and at least four soldiers were wounded in fire exchanges.

Tulkarm Brigades group, which includes fighters from numerous Palestinian factions, said its members were still exchanging fire with Israeli forces on Saturday. At least three drones were seen hovering above Nur Shams, where Israeli military vehicles were massed and bursts of gunfire were heard.

In Gaza, Israeli strikes hit the southern city of Rafah, where over one million Palestinians are sheltering, as well as Al-Nuseirat in central Gaza, where at least five houses were destroyed, and the Al-Jabalia area in the north, health officials and Hamas media said.

The Israeli military said troops were carrying out raids in central Gaza, where they were engaged in close quarter combat with Palestinian fighters. Overall, Israeli strikes in Gaza killed 37 Palestinians and wounded 68 over the past 24 hours, Palestinian health authorities said.

Fighting has continued in Gaza despite the withdrawal of most of Israel's combat forces earlier this month from southern areas.

Rafah is the last Gaza area that Israeli ground forces have not entered in a more than six-month war aimed at eliminating the Hamas group that rules the enclave, following the Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced wide international opposition to the plan to attack Rafah, where the military says the last remaining organized brigades of Hamas are located and where the remaining 133 Israeli hostages are believed to be held.

The Gaza war has overshadowed continuing violence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, including regular army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and street attacks by Palestinians on Israelis.

The Palestinian Health Ministry has confirmed the deaths of two people since Friday in Nur Shams, an area that houses refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants. One fatality was identified by Palestinian sources as a gunman. The second was a 16-year-old schoolboy, according to Palestinian officials.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the United States for effectively stopping the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state by casting a veto this week in the Security Council.

In an interview with the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Abbas said the Palestinian Authority would reconsider bilateral relations with the United States.

The West Bank and Gaza are among the territories that the Palestinians seek for an independent state. US-brokered peace talks broke down a decade ago.


Palestinians to Reconsider US Ties after Veto of Bid for Full UN Membership, Abbas says

 Protesters attend a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Barclays bank, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in London, Britain, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Protesters attend a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Barclays bank, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in London, Britain, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Palestinians to Reconsider US Ties after Veto of Bid for Full UN Membership, Abbas says

 Protesters attend a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Barclays bank, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in London, Britain, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Protesters attend a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside Barclays bank, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in London, Britain, April 20, 2024. (Reuters)

The Palestinian Authority will reconsider bilateral relations with the US after Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the official WAFA news agency.

Earlier, China's foreign minister Wang Yi on Saturday said efforts to admit a Palestinian state into the United Nations were a move to rectify a prolonged injustice, state media Xinhua reported.

He made the comments at a joint press conference with his Papua New Guinea counterpart during a visit to country.

The United States on Thursday effectively stopped the UN from recognizing a Palestinian state by casting a veto in the Security Council.

"A prompt admission of Palestine into the United Nations is a move to rectify a prolonged historical injustice," Xinhua quoted Wang as saying.


Egypt Calls on Iran and Israel to Exercise Restraint

FILED - 19 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks during a press conference at Tahrir Palace. Photo: Stringer/dpa
FILED - 19 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks during a press conference at Tahrir Palace. Photo: Stringer/dpa
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Egypt Calls on Iran and Israel to Exercise Restraint

FILED - 19 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks during a press conference at Tahrir Palace. Photo: Stringer/dpa
FILED - 19 October 2023, Egypt, Cairo: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks during a press conference at Tahrir Palace. Photo: Stringer/dpa

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Saturday urged both Iran and Israel to exercise restraint amid high tensions in the Middle East.
Shoukry said “we are concerned about ongoing escalation in the region.
Separately, Shoukry said Egypt would host a Turkish delegation to prepare for a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Türkiye in the near future.
Open fighting began April 1 with the suspected Israeli killing of Iranian generals at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria. That prompted Iran's retaliatory barrage last weekend of more than 300 missiles and drones that the US, Israel and regional and international partners helped bat down without significant damage in Israel. And then came Friday's apparent Israeli strike that hit near military and nuclear targets deep in the heart of Iran.


Israeli Airstrike in Gaza's Rafah Kills at Least 9 Palestinians, Including 6 Children

Palestinians perform Friday noon prayer on April 19, 2024, next to the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque, destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinians perform Friday noon prayer on April 19, 2024, next to the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque, destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
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Israeli Airstrike in Gaza's Rafah Kills at Least 9 Palestinians, Including 6 Children

Palestinians perform Friday noon prayer on April 19, 2024, next to the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque, destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinians perform Friday noon prayer on April 19, 2024, next to the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque, destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas group. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

An Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza’s southernmost city killed at least nine people, six of them children, hospital authorities said Saturday, as Israel pursued its nearly seven-month offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israel's war against the armed group Hamas has led to a dramatic escalation of tensions in an already volatile Middle East.

The strike late Friday hit a residential building in the western Tel Sultan neighborhood of the city of Rafah, according to Gaza’s civil defense. The bodies of the six children, two women and a man were taken to Rafah's Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the hospital’s records showed.

At the hospital, relatives cried and hugged the bodies of the children, wrapped in white shrouds, as others comforted them.

The fatalities included Abdel-Fattah Sobhi Radwan, his wife Najlaa Ahmed Aweidah and their three children, his brother-in-law Ahmed Barhoum said. Barhoum also lost his wife, Rawan Radwan, and their 5-year-old daughter Alaa.

"This is a world devoid of all human values and morals,” Barhoum told The Associated Press Saturday morning, crying as he cradled and gently rocked the body of Alaa in his arms. “They bombed a house full of displaced people, women and children. There were no martyrs but women and children.”

No victims were registered from a second overnight strike in the city.

Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt, currently hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population of about 2.3 million people, the vast majority of whom have been displaced by fighting further north in the territory.

Despite calls for restraint from the international community, including Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, the Israeli government has insisted for months that it intends to push a ground offensive into the city, where it says many of the remaining Hamas fighters are holed up.

Such a ground operation has not materialized so far, but the Israeli military has repeatedly carried out airstrikes on and around the city.

The war was sparked by an unprecedented raid into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups on Oct. 7 that left about 1,200 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians, and saw about 250 people kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Israel says about 130 hostages remain in Gaza, although more than 30 have been confirmed to now be dead, either killed on Oct. 7 or having died in captivity.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday the bodies of 37 people killed by Israeli strikes were brought to hospitals in Gaza over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 68 wounded, it said. The latest figures bring the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,049, and the number of wounded to 76,901, the ministry said. Although the Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count, they say at least two thirds have been children and women.

The war has sent regional tensions spiraling, leading to a dramatic eruption of violence between Israel and its archenemy Iran that threatened to escalate into a full-blown war.

On Friday, both Iran and Israel played down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran, indicating the two sides were pulling back from what could have become an all-out conflict. Over the past several weeks, an alleged Israeli strike killed two Iranian generals at an Iranian consulate in Syria and was followed by an unprecedented Iranian missile barrage on Israel.

Israel has also faced off with the Hezbollah party, an Iranian proxy operating from Lebanon, with the two sides there frequently trading rocket and drone attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militias have also joined the fray, launching strikes against merchant ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.

Tension has also been high in the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli military raid Friday in the Nur Shams refugee camp killed at least four Palestinians, including three militants, according to the Israeli military, Palestinian health officials and a militant group.

Palestinian health authorities said one of those killed was a 15-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli fire. The Islamic Jihad group confirmed the deaths of three members, including one who it said was a local military commander. The Israeli military said four Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded in the operation.

Saraya al-Quds, the military arm of Islamic Jihad, said its fighters had engaged in heavy gun battles Saturday morning with Israeli forces in the town of Tulkarem, adjacent to Nur Shams. No further details were immediately available. Residents in Tulkarem went on a general strike Saturday to protest the attack on Nur Shams, with shops, restaurants and government offices all closed.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, more than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, Palestinian health officials say. Israel stages frequent raids into towns and cities in the volatile territory. The dead have included militants, but also stone-throwers and bystanders. Some have also been killed in attacks by Israeli settlers.


Lebanese Interior Ministry, General Security Take Steps to Resolve Syrian Refugee Crisis

Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)
Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)
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Lebanese Interior Ministry, General Security Take Steps to Resolve Syrian Refugee Crisis

Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)
Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)

Lebanese officials can no longer afford to lightly deal with the Syrian refugee file, especially amid rising popular and political pressure to deal with the crisis.

The Interior Ministry and General Security announced immediate practical steps to resolve the crisis that started in 2011 with the eruption of the conflict in neighboring Syria.

The refugee file was brought back to the spotlight after a Syrian gang was accused of kidnapping and killing Pascal Sleiman, Jbeil coordinator of the Lebanese Forces. Syrians are also behind a spike in crime in Lebanon.

The situation has prompted some partisan forces in some regions to take action against the refugees, such as expelling them from villages and towns and expelling Syrian students from Lebanese schools.

43% of the population

According to acting General Security chief Elias al-Baysari, some 2.1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon or around 43 percent of Lebanon’s population.

In December, the General Security directorate received figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) showing that it has registered 1.486 million refugees, without specifying when they were registered or when they entered Lebanon.

Sources from the General Security told Asharq Al-Awsat that the UNHCR was asked to hand in new data related to the date of entry of the refugees, specifically if they had entered after 2015, which was when the Lebanese government had decided that it would no longer register more refugees.

New measures

The sources said the General Security was ready to deport 2,000 to 3,000 unregistered Syrians a day if the political authorities take a decision over the issue.

Measures have been adopted in recent weeks to organize this file and push for the refugees’ return to their homes, they added.

Among these measures are refusal to accept bank statements and draft new lease agreements that are needed to renew residency permits, and shutting stores that are creating unfair competition with Lebanese businesses.

Geagea calls for deporting violators

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said on Friday that 40 to 45 percent of Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon illegally, warning that the Syrian crisis probably needs another 13 years to be resolved.

Speaking at a press conference, he added that during that time, the number of Syrians in Lebanon could rise to 4 million and equal the number of Lebanese people.

He said the General Security was the main party to blame for the crisis, then the Internal Security Forces and army.

The crisis must be resolved according to the 1962 law that stipulates that people without residency permits must be deported. Such a move is administrative and decided by the General Security, without resorting to the judiciary, he explained.

This also negates the need for a political decision to implement the law, he went on to say.

An official source refuted Geagea’s claims, saying the law on entering and residing in Lebanon does not include the law that he mentioned.

The law also does not cover Lebanese legal texts on the direct deportation of any Arab or foreign national who violates residency regulations in Lebanon, it added.

It explained that the law referred to by Geagea calls for prosecuting the violator and awaiting a legal ruling on their deportation.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the source said the General Security requested information from the UNHCR about who entered Lebanon before or after 2015 to determine who needs protection and who can be returned home.

Interior Ministry

It suggested that lawmakers must propose laws and amend others so that the process of returning the refugees home can be sped up, instead of making security agencies shoulder political responsibilities.

The Interior Ministry had in September issued a number of decrees to regulate the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and tasked municipalities and provinces to tally their numbers in their areas of jurisdiction. It also called for extra scrutiny in observing where they reside and work.

It compiled a report every 15 days with its findings in an attempt to crack down on violations.

Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi recently called on municipal chiefs and governors to strictly implement these regulations.

Security sources said that at the moment, efforts are being made to organize the presence of the refugees and compile a clear database.

Protecting Lebanon and averting strife are the Interior Ministry and security agencies’ top priorities, they told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We will not allow any fifth column to undermine the security of the country and its citizens,” they vowed.

Syrians poured into Lebanon in 2011 through legal and illegal means, making it hard for authorities to keep track of them and tally their actual numbers.

Lebanon has been in the throes of a severe economic crisis since 2019 that has curtailed the people’s purchasing power and plunged more than half of the population in poverty.

The refugees are now perceived as competing with the Lebanese people for basic and essential goods, such as bread and fuel, as well as job opportunities, creating deep resentment and tensions. The situation came to a head with Sleiman’s killing earlier this month.


Macron Determined to Help Lebanon

French President Emmanuel Macron receives caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (Dalati & Nohra)
French President Emmanuel Macron receives caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (Dalati & Nohra)
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Macron Determined to Help Lebanon

French President Emmanuel Macron receives caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (Dalati & Nohra)
French President Emmanuel Macron receives caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. (Dalati & Nohra)

French President Emmanuel Macron has returned to taking a personal and direct interest in the Lebanese file, despite the many disappointments that his efforts have faced since 2020, following the August 2020 port explosion and the two successive visits he made to Lebanon, to try to put the country on the path to political and economic recovery.
During the extraordinary European summit that took place in Brussels earlier this week, Macron took advantage of a press conference to convey a set of messages and draw a “road map” for his new efforts towards Lebanon.
The talks that took place at the Elysée Palace on Friday, with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and with the Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, followed by an expanded meeting attended by advisors from both sides, came to complete an understanding on the four files that the French president had raised from Brussels.
Those include the means to ensure security and stability in Lebanon, by finding a settlement to the ongoing “skirmish war” between Hezbollah and Israel in the South.
The second file deals with support for the Lebanese army. Macron said from Brussels that the European Council decided to provide enhanced assistance to the Lebanese army, which is intended to play a pivotal role, in cooperation with UNIFIL forces, in cooling the southern front and implementing the content of UNSC Resolution 1701 of 2006, which stipulates a zone free of weapons and militants between the Litani River and the international border.
The third file focuses on the means to support the Lebanese economy. The French president had previously presented an economic road map in 2020, and linked it to the reforms required by Lebanon to obtain international aid that was approved at the CEDRE conference in 2018. The pledges reached a record of $11 billion at the time, distributed between donations, loans and investments.
The last file revolved around the continued failure to elect a new president for the country. However, a source in the Elysee Palace said that the subject was “not the primary goal” of the discussions that took place on Friday, despite a French warning that the presidential vacuum exposes the country to dangers.

 

 

 


What are Cairo’s Options to Confront Impact of Red Sea Tensions on Suez Canal?

An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)
An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)
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What are Cairo’s Options to Confront Impact of Red Sea Tensions on Suez Canal?

An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)
An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)

Official statements in Egypt about a 60 percent decline in revenues from the Suez Canal have renewed questions about Cairo’s options to confront the impact of Red Sea tensions on the canal.
While some experts talked about diplomatic routes, others stressed that the Egyptian effort has limited results due to complex political obstacles that have led to these tensions, mainly the war in Gaza.
Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait, said that the Suez Canal revenues declined by 60 percent.
In recent statements on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, he attributed this fall to the continued tensions in the Red Sea.
Since the end of November, the Yemeni Houthi group has been targeting ships in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab region, which it says are “owned or operated by Israeli companies.”
The attacks came in response to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, and forced international shipping companies to divert their vessels to the Cape of Good Hope route, despite the increase in shipping cost and time.
The Deputy Director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Ayman Abdel Wahab said that the political options available to Egypt to confront the Red Sea tensions “depend on maintaining diplomatic moves to enhance stability in the region.”
“Egypt needs to intensify its political movements with all parties to reach an international consensus to enhance stability in the Red Sea, and not just secure the movement of ships,” he said, adding: “Regional and international powers must reduce competition over Red Sea ports and seek a greater level of coordination.”
For his part, Economic Expert Wael Al-Nahas told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt’s current options to confront the decline in Suez Canal revenues are to increase exports in all fields to ensure a regular dollar flow.”
In a report issued on Monday, the World Bank indicated that the continuation of the crisis resulting from the Houthi attacks on vessels passing through the Red Sea, and the decrease in Suez Canal transit traffic, “will cause losses of about $3.5 billion in Egypt’s dollar revenues.”
Former Egyptian Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mohamed Al-Orabi, said that Egypt had limited options to address the current situation.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Egypt alone cannot deal with the continued tensions in the Red Sea, and any Egyptian effort will have limited results due to the complexity of the political reasons that led to these tensions, mainly the war in Gaza.”