Yezid Sayigh writes: U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to fulfill one of his many campaign promises last week. A draft of his executive order on immigration appeared on January 25 and raised the possibility of U.S. action to set up safe zones for displaced Syrians. Trump confirmed this in a television interview the same day, saying “I’ll absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people.”
Reactions varied. Members of the Syrian opposition cautiously welcomed anything that would reduce the bloodshed in their country, while in Moscow a Kremlin spokesperson warned the proposal might “further aggravate the situation with refugees.”
The flurry of excitement was cut short, however, as the final version of the executive order published on January 27 dropped all mention of safe zones. And yet Trump returned to the theme two days later during phone calls to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, in which he requested their support for safe zones in Syria (and Yemen) according to an official White House statement.
What are Trump’s real intentions? More importantly, who will police a safe zone if one is established?
The initial draft of the executive order gave some clues. Most significant was the proposal “to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region.” This suggested a rebranding exercise, in which refugee concentrations in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon or their absorption in Gulf states would be labeled “safe zones.” Expediently for Trump, this would remove the burden of financial outlay from U.S. shoulders, while precluding any need for military action to protect refugees inside Syria.
Furthermore, even if the original draft of the executive order had been preserved, it only directed the secretaries of state and defense to “produce a plan.” But contingency planning does not commit the U.S. administration to any course of action, nor does it make action probable. [Continue reading…]
Middle East Eye reports: Lebanon’s president has insisted that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will remain in office, saying he wants Syrian refugees currently in his country to go home.
“President Assad will stay, and those who are asking for his departure are ignoring Syria,” newly elected Lebanese President Michel Aoun told French TV channel LCI on Monday.
Aoun, a former army general during the country’s civil war, was elected president in October, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum as part of a political deal that made Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri prime minister.
“We were facing the prospect of a second Libya here, but for the Assad regime that represents the only power that through its capacities restored the regime, a restoration that has united everyone and the government,” Aoun said.
Aoun is an ally of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Iran-backed party, which is fighting in Syria on Assad’s behalf.
The Lebanese militia and political party were critical to Aoun’s ascendancy to the presidency.
“Lebanon cannot take in Syrian refugees indefinitely on its territory,” the 81-year-old said. “We hosted them for humanitarian reasons, and they must return to their country.” [Continue reading…]