BEIRUT — Lebanon is "at the doorstep" of obtaining the right to extract oil and gas from its territorial waters, "without having any direct relations with Israel but rather through American mediation," President Michel Aoun told Lebanese daily Annasher in an interview published Friday.
Aoun said on Monday that a written proposal conveyed by US envoy Amos Hochstein, who is mediating the indirect maritime border negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, is "expected to arrive in Baabda before the end of this week." Aoun had also said that negotiations for a deal between the two enemy states have entered their "final stages." It remained unclear Friday evening whether the proposal had yet arrived.
In the Annasher interview Friday, Aoun reiterated that the country is nearing a conclusion on demarcating its maritime border "for the benefit of Lebanon."
Asked about cabinet formation, which has stalled since parliamentary elections in May, the president said: "It seems that things are not fully ripe yet" and that some figures were still making "maneuvers."
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati's previous cabinet has been operating in a caretaker capacity since May due to a political deadlock between him and president Michel Aoun over forming the new government.
The risk of both a presidential and governmental vacuum looms over Lebanon if Aoun's term expires on Oct. 31 without a new government having been formed. In recent days, several political figures, including Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, have said they expect a new government to be formed soon.
On the topic of refugees, Aoun told Annasher that he had sought with General Security head Abbas Ibrahim to reduce the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon by repatriating around 600,000 out of 1,750,000 refugees, claiming that an "external veto" has blocked his plan. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have decried such plans as dangerous, as Syria remains unsafe for returns.
Ever since caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine announced in early July plans for a mass return of refugees to Syria — at a rate of 15,000 refugees per month — in coordination with Syrian authorities, the plan has floundered.
But while no organized mass return seems imminent, human rights groups and refugees have said pressure on the refugees in the form of restrictive local regulations, army raids on camps and, in some cases, deportation, has intensified.
While no official numbers were available on the number of refugees deported in 2022, one rights group tracking the issue, the Access Center for Human Rights, told L’Orient Today that its researchers have recorded an increase in the number of cases of refugees deported to Syria since the beginning of the year.
While officials frequently cite an estimate of 1.5 million registered and unregistered refugees in Lebanon, this figure dates back to 2015, when the number of registered refugees was considerably higher than it is today, reaching nearly 1.2 million. There are currently some 839,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon. The actual number present in the country is unknown because the Lebanese government requested UNHCR to stop registering new refugee arrivals as of 2015 — those who arrived after this date may be recorded by UNHCR and can receive aid in some cases, but are not officially registered.
BEIRUT — Lebanon is "at the doorstep" of obtaining the right to extract oil and gas from its territorial waters, "without having any direct relations with Israel but rather through American mediation," President Michel Aoun told Lebanese daily Annasher in an interview published Friday. Aoun said on Monday that a written proposal conveyed by US envoy Amos Hochstein, who is mediating the...