Hizballah to coordinate repatriation of Syrian refugees with Assad regime
Hizballah will create a mechanism for the repatriation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to Syrian regime areas, in coordination with the Beirut government, the movement has said.
Lebanon hosts just under one million registered refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, although authorities say the real number is much higher.
Lebanese officials are ramping up demands that refugees go home, and Hizballah said on Friday it wanted to play a role.
"We in Hizballah, facing the slow progress in resolving this issue and based on our good and strong relationship with the Syrian state, we want to help," said its head Hassan Nasrallah.
Thousands of Hizballah fighters, as well as Russian warplanes, have helped Syrian regime troops retake swathes of territory in recent years.
Nasrallah said the group was setting up centres with phone numbers and social media accounts where refugees could sign up to return home.
"We will submit these lists to the relevant authorities in Syria," said Nasrallah, who added that Hizballah would coordinate with Lebanon's General Security agency.
"We will work together so that as many Syrian refugees as possible who want a voluntary and safe return can go back," he said in a televised address.
Nasrallah said Hizballah would take advantage of the summer months as Syrian families would want to be home before schools open in September.
"There is no time to lose," he said. "There is a huge difference between living in a tent and returning home, to your neighbourhood, your school."
Nasrallah spoke a day after several hundred Syrian refugees left the Lebanese border town of Arsal, returning to their hometowns around Damascus.
The operation was coordinated between Lebanon's General Security and Syrian authorities.
Earlier this year, around 500 refugees also left southern Lebanon for Syria in a return organised by Beirut and Damascus.
Several thousand have independently left in recent years.
Nasrallah said neither his group nor the Lebanese government wanted to force refugees to return.
But he warned of local and international efforts aimed at dissuading refugees from going home.
Lebanon's top diplomat Gebran Bassil has accused United Nations refugee agency UNHCR of trying to persuade refugees to stay in Syria, and retaliated by blocking the issuing of any new work permits for the agency's foreign staff.
More than 920,000 people were displaced inside Syria during the first four months of 2018, the highest level in the seven-year conflict.