BEIRUT: Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said Friday that the controversial deportation of 14 Syrians to their country occurred in accordance with standard operating procedure, adding that the magnitude of the issue is being exaggerated.
"This issue is routine; it was being done before the events in Syria began and it still is," Abboud told a local radio station.
He added that the issue, which has caused local and international concern, "is being blown out of proportion," and said that, according to the Interior Ministry, the 14 men are not linked to the Syrian opposition or the regime.
In a statement released Thursday, General Security said the deportation of the 14 men to Syria did not have a political motive and that the men had committed violations and criminal acts. A table chart was attached to the statement indicating the crimes committed by all but one of the Syrians.
The crimes included thefts, attacking the house of an army officer, insulting the military establishment, the use of forged documents and sexual harassment of a female.
“The decision to deport the 14 Syrians was based on criminal acts and violations committed during their stay in Lebanon,” General Security said in its statement.
“Any decision to deport Syrian, Arab or foreign nationals is a decision based on judicial and security cases in line with the standards set forth in regional and international agreements and treaties.”
Speaking of deportations, General Security said, “Where evidence shows that [potential deportees’] lives might be endangered if they are deported to their country, they are exempted. This procedure has been used with Syrian nationals since the beginning of the painful events in [Syria].”
Meanwhile, Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid Marcus Loning told An-Nahar that his country would not return any Syrian to his or her country given the situation there.
“Germany will not return any Syrian accused of a crime in light of these circumstances,” An-Nahar quoted Loning as saying in an article published Friday.
Both the U.S. and the EU voiced concern regarding the news of the deportations via their envoys to Lebanon. March 14 figures, including head of the Future Movement bloc Fouad Siniora, also expressed alarm and displeasure.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt demanded the dismissal of Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, chief of General Security, accusing him of carrying out Damascus’ orders.
“We call on the Lebanese government and the relevant authorities to clarify all the circumstances relating to this issue and to launch a probe to determine responsibility and take disciplinary measures against the director general of General Security – leading to his sacking, if need be, in order to stop this ongoing farce,” Jumblatt said in a statement.