Archive for January, 2016

Russia and China: Green light to kill Syrians

Global Arab Network – In January 2007 Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Burmese military junta in Myanmar. In July 2008 both Russia and China rejected sanctions against the Robert Mugabe’s odious regime in Zimbabwe. I was not surprised that Russia and China have vetoed a European-backed UN Security Council Resolution that threatened sanctions against the Syrian regime if it did not immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians. The resolution would have been the first such legally binding move adopted by the Security Council since the Syrian Regime began using its military machine against protesters in mid-March in the town of Deraa.

The European sponsors of the resolution had tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word “sanctions” was deleted. India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon abstained. The four abstainers have some explaining to do.

According to the London Guardian “Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the council after the vote that his country did not support the Assad regime or the violence but opposed the resolution because it was based on a philosophy of confrontation, contained an ultimatum of sanctions and was against a peaceful settlement.

China’s ambassador, Li Bandong, said his country was concerned about the violence and wanted reforms but opposed the resolution because sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, do not help the situation in Syria but rather complicates the situation”.

Of course such justifications are feeble lies. Russia and China feel confident that Bashar al-Assad will survive, cling to power and continue to be a good friend with both powers.

What message does this double action give to the people of Syria? What does it tell the Arab Street about Russia and China?

My reading of the Arab Press, Social Media and the Television broadcasts, I can say that the Syrian people are seething with anger at the Russian and Chinese blocking of the UN Security Council Resolution. The Arab Street is equally furious. The veto has been an abuse of power and is a Public Relation Disaster for Moscow and Beijing. William Hague the British Foreign Secretary described the decision as “deeply mistaken and regrettable”.

The people of the Middle East see it like this; both Russia and China are giving the green light to the butchers of Damascus to carry on killing pro-democracy demonstrators. Russia and China stand with the tyrant against the people. Let us not forget that neither of the two so-called super powers gives a fig about freedom, democracy or human rights.

By their actions Russia and China will have no place in a new democratic Middle East. Their action has debunked the myth that only the USA and Western Europe are propping up the dictators of the Middle East.

Russia and China have lost Libya because they supported Muammar Gaddafi until the last minute then switched their support to the National Transitional Council when they realized that their man was doomed.

Russia and China are playing a dangerous game by backing the tyrannical regime of Syria. It escaped the notice of these two world giants that Bashar al Assad’s regime is waging a brutal war against his own people. Since mid March over 3200 protesters have been killed by the Syrian security forces. Thousands have been detained, beaten and tortured to death. Hundreds of injured were snatched from their hospital beds to be murdered by the much feared security thugs also known as Shabbiha.

The Arab Street has been disillusioned. Russian and Chinese flags have been burnt in various Syrian towns.

The Libyan and Syrian people have now discovered who their real friends are. In the final analysis Russia and China are the real losers because of their short-sighted policies of defending the killers of Damascus.

You will be forgiven if you think that China and Russia have learnt their lesson from the Libyan experience. No, they have not. They are repeating the same catastrophic errors with Syria. The Syrian regime is going to fall sooner or later. It has lost the support of its people and most of the Arab Street. Russia and China have decided to stand against the Arab Spring Tsunami and stop the clock. I wonder whether Moscow and Beijing have competent geo-political specialists to advise them and warn them against being on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the future.

In an article in the Huffington Post (Shame on China and Russia for supporting the Butchers of Syria September 15th) I urged Hu Jinato the Chinese President and his Foreign Minister Yang Jechi to reconsider and think of the long term damage to China in the region if they vetoed a resolution calling for the protection of the Syrian people I also appealed to Dmitry Anatolyenvich Medvedev, the Russian President, his Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to think again and refrain from blocking a future UN Security Council Resolution calling for the protection of the Syrian people. All I got for my effort was a number of negative comments from Chinese and Russian readers.

The American President Barack Obama, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy have acted absolutely correctly on this particular issue and put principles and morality above business and trade. I recognize that neither China nor Russia are champions of democracy and human rights, but common sense and simple PR rules, demand that they take into account the Arab world’s public opinion and their own image in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims everywhere.

Russia and China have decided to shoot themselves in the foot instead.

Source: Global Arab Network.

Link: http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/2011100812152/Opinion/russia-and-china-green-light-to-kill-syrians.html.

Sudanese refugee recounts forced deportation from Jordan

December 21, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Ahmed Doury and his wife had fled their home in Sudan’s Darfur region for safety in Jordan. But after Jordanian security forces violently rounded up and deported them and other Sudanese asylum seekers, the 32-year-old says he’s now more determined than ever to go to Europe.

“I will take the sea … I will get out of here by any means necessary,” he said Sunday, adding that it was the only thing he could think about on the flight back to Sudan. Speaking by telephone from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, he recounted the deportation to The Associated Press with a solemn voice.

Doury had gone to Jordan in 2014, fleeing death threats for his tribal and ethnic ties in the war-devastated Darfur region. He registered as a refugee with the United Nations and worked intermittent menial jobs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, to support himself and his wife.

Feeling discriminated against by authorities, the two joined a makeshift camp outside the U.N. headquarters where other Sudanese were living. On Wednesday, Jordanian security forces stormed the camp, tore it down and forced the asylum seekers onto vans headed to the airport.

The camp’s proximity to the U.N. headquarters had given the group a false sense of safety, he explained. “We have no trust in the U.N. anymore after what happened. No one did anything to help us,” Doury said, echoing a view widely held among Sudanese refugees in Jordan.

“Everyone was beaten … they stepped on the people who fell down,” he said. The troops marched in early in the morning, swearing and indiscriminately beating its inhabitants with rubber and electric batons, he said. They fired tear gas and rubber bullets and at one point shoved a pregnant woman to the ground. She fell, broke a leg and went into labor, he said.

Once dispersed, the Sudanese were driven to a holding bay near the country’s international airport in vans “so crammed, (they) were barely able to breathe.” Although all the asylum seekers were in metal or plastic handcuffs, Jordanian security continued to beat them at the holding area, and the trauma caused another pregnant woman to go into labor, he said.

On Friday, they were put onto planes taking them back to Sudan. Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani denied the use of force against the refugees. U.N. spokeswoman Aoife McDonnell said they believe the majority of those deported were registered refugees. Exact numbers were not available but the U.N. is “concerned about their status and the fear and apprehension that will pervade the remaining community here,” she said.

The agency says majority of some 3,500 Sudanese in Jordan are from the troubled Darfur region where they risk being persecuted. The U.N. had warned Jordan that the deportations violate international laws, but the Jordanian government said Friday that those deported had come under the pretext of seeking medical treatment and that asylum protection did not apply to them.

Some 120 Sudanese managed to escape the dispersal and are now on the run in Jordan. Doury said most of the Sudanese sent back were interrogated for at least two hours upon arrival in Khartoum and allowed to leave, but some have been detained indefinitely.

Doury said his wife, who is two months pregnant, was beaten in the break-up of the camp and now has pelvic and abdominal pain. “I am worried for the baby,” he said, but added that they don’t have money to see a doctor.

Being deported from Jordan may have given him and other asylum seekers the push they needed to brave the seas in search for a better life in Europe. “This is indescribably bad situation,” he said. “We tried the legal way, so now a lot of people will be trying the illegal way.”

Associated Press writers Sam McNeil and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Syrian army defectors tell of regime ruthlessness

Beirut (AFP)

Oct 8, 2011

When the Syrian army raided his village in the central province of Homs and began shooting at unarmed civilians, Amin knew it was time to join the growing ranks of soldiers defecting to the opposition.

“I was off duty that day in June and I couldn’t bear what I saw,” the 25-year-old lieutenant told AFP, asking that his real name not be used.

“I decided then to send my parents and siblings to a safe area and I slipped across the border into Lebanon.”

Several soldiers who have defected in recent months and fled to Lebanon gave similar harrowing tales, describing a “scorched earth” campaign by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its much feared “shabiha,” or pro-government thugs, to crush the seven-month popular revolt.

The soldiers showed AFP their army ID cards as proof of their identity.

Amin said that on one occasion, soldiers burst into the house of a suspected activist in his village and shot the man’s wife and daughter in the legs to force them to reveal his whereabouts.

“When the army carries out such operations, the shabiha are then given a free hand to loot and destroy,” he said.

According to reports that cannot be confirmed — as the Syrian government has restricted access to foreign journalists — more and more soldiers are defecting, with some forming an underground group called the Free Syrian Army.

Apart from Lebanon, Turkey has also become a refuge for defectors.

Experts and diplomats say that while the phenomenon is not widespread, it indicates growing frustration over the regime’s fierce crackdown against a mostly peaceful uprising that has left nearly 3,000 people dead.

The cities of Homs and nearby Rastan have become hubs for defectors who have joined the opposition.

“I defected before being faced with the dilemma of having to kill someone or being killed myself for not obeying orders,” said Rami, who was with army intelligence and fled to Lebanon in June.

He described an army in which many soldiers are disillusioned with the regime and hesitate to shoot at demonstrators, but fear reprisals from their commanders.

The army top brass usually hail from the ruling Alawite community, while the rank and file are mostly from the majority Sunni Muslim community.

“Soldiers are kept under close watch by their superiors and once they come under suspicion they become the target themselves,” said Rami, who, like others interviewed for this article, did not use his real name.

“When that happens, it’s time to quickly pack the family and get out.”

He said soldiers whose loyalty is questioned are placed on the front lines when the army raids a town.

“If you fail to shoot, then they kill you and tell your family that it was the work of an armed terrorist gang,” said Rami, in his 40s.

Yussef, a frail-looking 20-year-old who fled to Lebanon in August, said his unit in Homs province would often be ordered to shoot at people even not taking part in a demonstration, just to sow terror.

“I saw with my own eyes an unarmed older farmer in a village in Homs province go by on a bicycle and we were ordered to shoot him in the back,” he said emotionally. “He was left there to bleed all day.

“I have no idea why he was killed. He didn’t represent a threat.”

Yussef said members of his unit, known for not using up their ammunition, were sent on a mission once and told to fire all their bullets or else.

He also said security services often shoot at army units to uphold the regime’s “tale” that armed terrorist groups are behind the uprising.

Maher, an activist who is among some 5,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon, said the opposition in Homs has organised to assist defecting soldiers and offer them safe houses.

“If the international community really wants to protect the Syrian people without getting involved militarily, then it needs to supply these soldiers with ammunition,” he said.

“And this needs to be done quickly before the regime carries out new massacres.”

Amin, Rami and Yussef said they believe that as the Assad regime intensifies its brutal campaign, more and more soldiers will defect.

But they also fear being tracked down in Lebanon by Assad’s men or by his supporters in Lebanon, where the government is dominated by the powerful militant group Hezbollah and its allies.

“I got out because I need to live with a clear conscience,” said Amin. “I joined the army to protect my people and my land, to free the Golan, not Homs and Daraa.”

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Syrian_army_defectors_tell_of_regime_ruthlessness_999.html.

Israeli minister calls for independent Kurdistan

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has called for the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported.

“We must openly call for the establishment of a Kurdish state that separates Iran from Turkey, one which will be friendly towards Israel,” Shaked said at the annual INSS security conference in Tel Aviv.

“We are witnessing the disintegration of nation-states. We Kurds and Jews have a long history. We have common interests in trying to stop the Islamic State. The Kurds are fighting Daesh with all their might,” she added.

Shaked stressed the need for Israel to build cultural, economic and political relations with the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey.

The minister said that Israel explicitly declares its support for “the aspirations of the Kurdish people in the autonomous territories in northern Syria and Iraq”, adding that “the Kurdish people are partners with the Israeli people”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23453-israeli-minister-calls-for-independent-kurdistan.

Japan FM says Russia key to resolving Syria, N. Korea issues

January 19, 2016

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s foreign minister pledged Tuesday to continue talks with Russia even though the two countries still lack a World War II peace treaty, saying Moscow is key to resolving international threats from Syria and North Korea.

Fumio Kishida also announced $350 million in new aid to help stabilize Syria and its neighboring countries amid the region’s massive refugee crisis, following $810 million in earlier humanitarian support.

Kishida said in a speech in Tokyo that a diplomatic dialogue between Japan and Russia is indispensable, even though a territorial dispute has prevented them from technically ending their World War II hostilities. He said the two sides are seeking to hold summit talks “at the most appropriate time” this year.

Media reports say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Russia in April for talks with President Vladimir Putin ahead of a Group of Seven leaders’ meeting in Japan in May. “The international community is faced with various challenges, and Russia’s constructive role is essential in resolving the problems,” Kishida said, citing North Korea, Syria and the threat of terrorism. “In that context, political dialogue, especially at a political level, is indispensable.”

Japan and Russia never signed a post-World War II peace treaty because of conflicting claims over islands north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Soviet Union seized the four island groups in 1945.

Abe has sought to make progress on the territorial issue with Russia, but possible plans for a visit by Putin to Japan were put off following the Ukraine conflict and other issues. Outlining Japanese diplomacy for this year, Kishida expressed hope to visit China in the spring for talks with his counterpart, Wang Yi, to improve relations and resume high-level economic talks that have been stalled since 2010.

Qatari housing project in Gaza concludes 1st stage

January 16, 2016

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — More than 1,000 Palestinian families took possession of new apartments Saturday as part of a large Qatari-funded housing project in the Gaza Strip.

The units are the first batch of a 3,000-apartment complex that was announced when the former Qatari ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, became the first head of state to visit Hamas-ruled Gaza in 2012.

Hamad City sits on dunes that were part of the former Jewish settlement of Gush Katif. They started before the Israel-Hamas war in 2014 that damaged or destroyed nearly 100,000 homes. The construction of the residential city is separate from the post-war rebuilding, but being the largest housing project ever makes it significant for the 1.8 million residents of the coastal enclave, who live under Israeli and Egyptian blockade and travel restrictions.

Israel restricts building materials to Gaza for fears that the coastal strip’s Islamic Hamas rulers may use them in building its attack tunnels. To overcome the restrictions, Qatar arranges with Israel and the Palestinian Authority directly to deliver the needed materials for its projects.

Qatar allocated $145 million for Hamad City. The Qatari envoy overseeing the project, Mohammed al-Amadi, says Gaza needs 130,000 housing units. “We are replenishing parts of Gaza’s needs,” he said. On Saturday, Qatari and Palestinian flags adorned the complex as buses dropped hundreds of people who will receive the apartments. Posters of the former Qatari emir, his succeeding son and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hung from the buildings.

The families received certificates at the event, but won’t move in for another two months due to minor infrastructure work, such as paving the roads to the city and connecting it with water network. Among those who received certificates was Samia al-Nakhala, 39, who lives with her husband and son in a home that costs $250 a month in rent. Now she will pay the cost of the house in monthly installations of $170. “Instead of throwing my money in the air every month, now I will be paying for my own home,” she said.

Ismail Haniya, Hamas’ chief in Gaza, described the opening of the first part of the city as “a historic moment.” Hamas still holds control of Gaza despite ceding power to a transitional government it formed after a reconciliation deal with Abbas’ Fatah party in 2014.

Turkey’s Erdogan meets king in Saudi Arabia for Syria talks

December 29, 2015

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Hours before he arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Syria’s president of “mercilessly” killing hundreds of thousands of people and criticized Russia for backing him.

Erdogan was speaking to reporters before departing for Saudi Arabia, where he met King Salman for talks focused on the Syrian civil war and energy cooperation. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are strong backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran.

Erdogan said his government and Saudi Arabia are working “in solidarity and consultation” to find a political solution for Syria, as both countries push for an agreement that would remove Assad from power.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Erdogan’s talks with Salman were attended by other senior Saudi royals and officials, including the kingdom’s crown prince, the deputy crown prince, and the ministers of finance, foreign affairs and information. Erdogan’s delegation to Saudi Arabia includes the country’s ministers of economy, energy and foreign affairs.

The two sides were expected to discuss energy cooperation as Ankara works to diversify its supplies following a rift with Moscow over the downing of a Russian plane. The Saudi Press Agency confirmed the two leaders discussed the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, as well developments in war-torn Libya and Yemen, where Saudi forces are battling Shiite rebels.

In comments apparently directed at Russia’s military intervention in Syria, Erdogan said: “You cannot go anywhere by supporting a regime that has mercilessly killed 400,000 innocent people with conventional and chemical weapons.”

Russia began airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30, saying it wanted to support the Syrian government and defeat Islamic State militants and other extremists. But many of the strikes have hit Western-backed rebel groups in areas where IS is not present, and Syrian activists say the Russian strikes have killed civilians.

The U.N. says at least 250,000 people have been killed in the nearly five-year Syrian conflict, and some 12 million people displaced, triggering a massive refugee crisis. What began in 2011 as mainly peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring eventually spiraled into an armed conflict pitting rebels against the military, drawing in global powers as well as extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.

Though Kurdish fighters are among the strongest forces on the ground in Syria battling the IS group, Erdogan told reporters before arriving in Saudi Arabia that countries backing the Kurds are “adding fuel to fire.” Turkey considers the Kurdish forces in Syria terrorists because of their links to an outlawed Kurdish rebel group in Turkey.

When Saudi Arabia hosted a meeting of major Syrian opposition groups this month, the main Kurdish militia known as the YPG and the largest Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party or PYD, were not invited.

This is Erdogan’s third visit to Saudi Arabia this year. He flew to Riyadh in January to attend the late King Abdullah’s funeral and again in March for bilateral talks with King Salman. The two leaders also met at the G-20 summit held in Turkey last month.

Saudi-Turkish ties were strained under Abdullah, who saw Turkey’s support of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group as a destabilizing threat to the region. Ties between the two countries have since improved under the new monarch Salman, who has worked closely with Sunni countries to stymie the reach of Saudi Arabia’s top regional foe, Shiite Iran.

Turkey is a member of the 34-nation Islamic military alliance that Saudi Arabia announced this month.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

Erdogan: Do those who support Syrian regime value human life?

Friday, 04 December 2015

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday asked if a regime that kills its own citizens or those that support it value human life, in an apparent reference to Syria and Russia.

Speaking during the commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Erodgan said: “Can a regime that killed 380,000 of its citizens with chemical and traditional weapons and displaced 12 million others have any relation to humanity? Can those who provide unconditional support to this regime, regardless of its massacres, and make every blatant effort to keep the regime in power, give value to human life?”

“Do you believe that those who kill children, civilians and innocent individuals standing in line for bread, under the pretext of combating Daesh, have a sense of humanity?” he asked.

The Turkish president noted that those with disabilities make up 10 per cent of the world’s population, according to UN statistics, pointing out that those with disabilities make up 13.3 per cent of Turkey’s population.

Erdogan stressed the Turkey is continuing its efforts to provide the conditions that allow for individuals with disabilities to rely on themselves and not remain in need of assistance and to provide more opportunities for them to work.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/22648-erdogan-do-those-who-support-syrian-regime-value-human-life.

Turkish ambassador: Palestinian blood is expensive and Israel must stop violating it

Friday, 04 December 2015

“Israel must know that the blood of the Palestinian people is expensive”, Mustafa Sarnic, the Turkish ambassador to the Palestinian Authority (PA), said, noting that Tel Aviv’s policies prompted Palestinians to rise up to “defend” Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Sarnic stressed the need to fully remove the blockade of the Gaza Strip and called on Islamic countries to stand alongside the Palestinians.

In his statements to Felesteen newspaper, Sarnic added that the Israeli side must stop its violations against Palestinian people.

He added that Al-Aqsa Mosque “belongs to all Muslims and is holy land.”

“Palestine is the land from which the heavenly journey of Muhammed (pbuh) began and the first direction of prayer for Muslims, so everyone, not just Turkey but all Islamic countries, must stand alongside Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the Palestinian people as we always do.”

With regards to the Israeli blockade, Sarnic said: “The blockade imposed on the Palestinian people must be completely lifted, especially in the Gaza Strip.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22651-turkish-ambassador-palestinian-blood-is-expensive-and-israel-must-stop-violating-it.

Once accommodating neighbors now turn back Syrian refugees

January 13, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — After taking in a million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has quietly changed course in recent months, forcing refugees to return to Syria — where they are at risk of persecution or death — or stay illegally, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The situation is drawing attention at a time when Turkey and Jordan have also tightened their admission policies. A Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday warned that Lebanon’s new regulations have “set the stage for a potentially explosive situation.”

Even as conditions in Syria deteriorate in a fifth year of war, Lebanon last week forcibly repatriated 407 Syrians who were stranded at Beirut airport after Turkey tightened its visa restrictions with little notice. It was by far the largest such forced repatriation to date.

Amnesty International called the action “an outrageous breach of Lebanon’s international obligations,” which require that it not return vulnerable people to a conflict zone. “Syrians have no value here. They’ve closed the door on us,” said a 34-year-old refugee from Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital in northeastern Syria, who is now living and working as a doorman in Beirut. He refused to be named for fear of expulsion.

Lebanon in 2015 reversed a longstanding open-door policy for Syrians that allowed them to enter the country and reside here relatively unencumbered. At a minimum, they must now pay $200 per adult for a permit that lasts between six and 12 months, to say nothing of the onerous bureaucratic process that accompanies each application.

Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said most of refugees have lost their legal status over the past year because of the new regulations. “That’s not just an abstract notion. If you don’t have legal status, you basically cannot cross any checkpoints. So men cannot leave the house,” said Houry.

Security checkpoints dot the country’s Bekaa Valley and the north, where most Syrians are living. “That means you have to send the kids to work, because they aren’t usually stopped. It also means if a woman gets sexually harassed, she cannot complain to the police, because she will be arrested,” Houry said.

The situation is similar in Turkey, which has over two million refugees. Ankara began implementing visa restrictions for Syrians entering the country as part of its efforts to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. That decision reversed a long-standing agreement that allowed visa-free entry to Syrians.

Jordan insists it has kept its borders open to Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict in 2011. However, it has increasingly tightened its admissions policy. A remote stretch of desert between Syria and Jordan has been the only land access route for Syrian refugees since mid-2013. In recent months, growing numbers of refugees have amassed in an area near a berm, awaiting entry. Government spokesman Mohammed Momani said earlier this week that about 16,000 refugees are gathered there. He said 50 to 100 are allowed in each day, with priority given to women, children, the elderly and the ill, adding that “security is the first priority.”

The U.N. refugee agency warned in December that conditions at the berm are deteriorating and that a majority of those waiting for admission, often for months, are women and children. The U.N. refugee agency says Jordan hosts about 630,000 refugees. In recent months, thousands have left by plane to Turkey and from there to Europe, while others have gone back to Syria. The exodus was sparked, in part, by further cuts in assistance to refugees by cash-strapped aid agencies.

Syrians now have two avenues to stay in Lebanon, either by relying on their precarious status as a United Nations-registered refugee, or by finding a Lebanese citizen to sponsor them. Human Rights Watch said obstacles on the U.N. route were increasingly pushing Syrians into the murky sponsorship trade.

“The sponsorship requirement is a recipe for abuse,” said Houry. Of the 40 refugees interviewed for the report, only four have been able to renew their residency since January 2015. Over a million Syrians are registered as refugees with the UNHCR in Lebanon — equivalent to one-quarter of the resident population — though the number has declined over the past year as families find their conditions untenable. They are thought either to have returned to Syria or attempted a perilous escape to Turkey or Europe.

Over 90 percent of the refugees are trapped in debt, and 70 percent live below the poverty line, according to a recent United Nations study. Anti-refugee sentiment has crept into the fragile Lebanese political order as the war in Syria drags on. In October 2014, months before the new residency regulations came into effect, the government voted to stop receiving refugees, and in January, it prohibited the UNHCR from registering any more.

The U.N. estimates around half of Syria’s population has been displaced, perhaps the starkest indicator of the ruthlessness of the war. Another Syrian refugee in Beirut, who identified himself by his nickname Abu Ali to remain anonymous to Lebanese authorities, said he came to Lebanon in 2012 and this year lost his residency because of the new regulations.

“I can’t put my daughter in school because we are now illegally residing in the country,” he said, speaking at the sandwich shop he works at in Beirut. Short of options in Lebanon, some families have pooled resources to send a husband or son to Turkey, where they can then set off for Europe, seeking asylum.

An official at Lebanon’s General Security bureau, in charge of immigration and border control, denied that the new restrictions are aimed at forcing Syrians to return. “There was a lot of pressure at our border, and we had to organize our criteria for entry,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

“It is not to force people to leave.”

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.