Lebanon's Hezbollah to work with Syrian state on refugee returns

 Lebanons Hezbollah to work with Syrian state on refugee returns

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah will work with the Syrian state and Lebanon's General Security agency to help return Syrian refugees who want to go back to their country, its leader said on Friday.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose Iran-backed movement fights alongside Damascus, also said a "very big victory" was coming in south Syria, where an army offensive has made rapid gains against insurgents.

As Syrian government forces and their allies retake more territory, Lebanese officials have stepped up calls for refugees to go back to parts of Syria where violence has died down.

In a televised sppech, Nasrallah said Hezbollah was establishing a mechanism to return "the biggest possible number" of Syrians refugees who want to go home safely and voluntarily.

"We are ready to help ... and we will continue helping until this matter is settled politically and officially between the Lebanese and Syrian governments," he added.

U.N. officials and foreign donor states to Lebanon have said it is not yet safe for refugees to go back to Syria, where a political deal to end the multi-sided war remains elusive.

Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah has provided vital support to Syria's military in the war across the border, helping it regain swathes of the country.

The seven-year-old war has driven 11 million Syrians from their homes, including more than one million to Lebanon, nearly a quarter of its population, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says. The Lebanese government puts the number at 1.5 million.

Nasrallah said without elaborating that "international and local groups" were misinforming Syrian refugees and scaring them out of leaving Lebanon to return home.

Lebanon's Foreign minister Gebran Bassil, whose FPM party is a political ally of Hezbollah, has pressed for more returns and accused UNHCR this month of preventing Syrians from going back.

UNHCR denies this, saying it supports safe return and respects individual decisions to return, while major foreign donors have voiced dismay at what they called "false accusations".

Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, who opposes the Syrian government, has said that Lebanon is against forced returns of refugees.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Andrew Roche, William Maclean)

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Updated Date: Jun 30, 2018 00:07:19 IST