Putin says Syrian refugees should return and rebuild country | Middle East

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said millions of Syrian refugees should start returning home to help rebuild the country, saying large areas enjoy relative peace.But the current conditions in this war-torn country are not ripe for the massive return of refugees, according to observers in Syria and many Western countries.

Russia has been a key player in the civil war, bolstering forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been repeatedly accused of killing civilians.

Putin’s comments on Monday in a video call with al-Assad preceded a two-day international refugee conference in Damascus, scheduled to start on Wednesday.

The controversial rally, organized by Moscow, has been criticized by officials from the United Nations and the United States.

During the video call, Putin said that “international terrorism has been almost wiped out and the return to civilian life should start gradually.”

Russia and the Syrian government call Syrian rebel groups “terrorists”.

Putin also told al-Assad that an agreement for the conflict in Syria should include the return of refugees and internally displaced persons in accordance with resolution 2254. He added that refugees “are people of working age and should work. to the reconstruction of their country ”.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254 adopted in December 2015 sets a timetable for talks and a ceasefire that has never been honored.

Syrian state media broadcast the video appeal of Putin-al-Assad with an Arabic voiceover of Putin’s comments, which he made in Russian.

The Nine Years’ War displaced millions and killed nearly 500,000, leaving Syria – which had a pre-war 23 million inhabitants – torn apart in rival areas controlled by different groups, backed by regional actors or international.

Some 5.6 million Syrians were forced to flee their country while another six million were internally displaced.

Russia’s intervention in 2015 in the long-standing conflict tipped the scales in favor of forces loyal to al-Assad.

Syrian troops have since recaptured large swathes of territory from the rebels, who now control the northwestern province of Idlib. Meanwhile, US-backed Kurdish fighters control parts of the eastern part of the country.

A UN-facilitated political process has been stalled for months, and many Western countries accuse Damascus of blocking progress.

Ahead of the Damascus conference, it is still unclear whether some of the countries hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees, such as Turkey, would participate.

Syria accuses Turkey, which supports the armed opposition to al-Assad, of illegally deploying troops inside rebel-controlled Syrian territory.

Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita in the world, said it will send a small delegation.

Richard Mills, the US vice-ambassador to the UN, said last month that the conference was not organized in coordination with the United Nations or the countries hosting the largest number of refugees, urging nations to boycott it .

“This conference will be just the beginning to solve this humanitarian problem,” al-Assad said during the video call, adding that one of the main obstacles to the return of refugees are Western sanctions, which he called “Illegitimate and unjust”.



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