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Berri urges Lebanon government to talk refugees repatriation with Syria

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file picture, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in Beirut, Lebanon. (By AP)

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has called on the Beirut government to stop foot-dragging and engage in serious talks with Damascus over the repatriation of thousands of displaced Syrians currently taking refuge in Lebanon.

“Our government has so far buried its head in the sand and refused to talk with Syria on the return of refugees,” Berri said a ceremony in the Jordanian capital city of Amman on Tuesday.

Officials in Beirut remain divided over the conditions needed for the Syrian refugees to return home as well as the nature of ties with the Damascus government.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, Berri’s Amal Movement and their allies support normalization of ties with neighboring Syria, whereas Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Social Party argue that direct contacts with Damascus can happen only when the nearly eight-year-old crisis in Syria is resolved.

Berri’s remarks come weeks after Lebanon’s Minister of State for Displaced Affairs Saleh Gharib made a surprise visit to Damascus for talks on the issue. He has made Syrian refugees’ return his priority.

Gharib, who is an outspoken supporter of the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, said last month that Lebanon would work to “secure the return” of refugees to Syria.

Syrian refugees take a coach bus heading to Syria in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Xinhua news agency)

He explained that the Syrian government believes “the failure to return the displaced Syrians would be a blow to the victory of the Syrian state.”

That visit drew criticism at home from opponents of normalization with Syria.

Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin said on Monday that Moscow is taking concrete measures inside Syria in a bid to facilitate the return of refugees to their homeland.

“Russia is doing reconstruction and rehabilitation work inside Syria in addition to securing the right atmosphere for refugees to be able to return to their homeland,” Zasypkin stated.

Syrian refugees wait to take a coach bus heading to Syria in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Xinhua news agency)

The Russian ambassador went on say that he has discussed “the need by the international community to boost its efforts to help the return of refugees” with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

On February 28, hundreds of Syrian refugees returned from Lebanon to Syria.

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that a total of 22 buses transported the Syrian refugees to their hometowns in Syria’s central province of Hama and Homs, northwestern province of Aleppo, the eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr as well as the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

Syrian refugees are seen in a bus upon their arrival at the Jdeidat Yabous border crossing, west of Damascus, Syria, on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Xinhua news agency)

More than one million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon.

The Beirut government estimates that the true number of Syrians in Lebanon stands at 1.5 million.

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