SLA men enter Israel after IDF Lebanon withdrawal 311 (R).
(photo credit: Jim Hollander / Reuters)
Lebanon’s parliament passed a draft law Wednesday to allow the return of Lebanese who fled to Israel in the wake of the IDF’s 2000 withdrawal from the country.
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More than 6,000 members of the South Lebanon Army, a militia allied with Israel during the 18-year Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, fled to Israel following Israel’s pullout.
Of the 6,500 SLA soldiers and their families who fled across the southern border, 2,500 remain in Israel and an estimated 2,000 continued to third countries.
Wednesday’s decision means SLA fighters who choose to return to Lebanon would be arrested upon crossing the border and tried under Lebanese law. The legislation would allow a oneyear window for ex-fighters to return.
SLA members’ “families and other Lebanese who hadn’t collaborated with the Jewish state” would be allowed to return without facing arrest, according to the Lebanese website Naharnet.
The law was drafted by MPs from Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, a predominantly Christian faction allied with Hezbollah’s ruling March 8 Alliance.
Around a third of the ex- SLA fighters and their families returned to Lebanon in recent years after Hezbollah promised they would not be harmed. Hezbollah also expressed support for the repatriation law, Naharnet reported.
Though offered full citizenship and benefits similar to those of new immigrants, SLA veterans have struggled to rebuild their lives in Israel – many remained unemployed years after their arrival.
In 2006, the Knesset authorized the distribution of NIS 40,000 grants to the veterans’ families in appreciation for their service to Israel.
On Wednesday, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai said Lebanon “must differentiate between those who had really collaborated, or conspired, with the Israeli enemy and those who had to flee … to the occupied territories [Israel] to salvage themselves.
“This issue is of major concern to us because the Lebanese citizens who were residing in the south were abandoned and neglected by the state until the occupation arrived and forced some of them to [collaborate with Israel].”
Speaking in Baghdad earlier in the day – the first-ever official visit to Iraq by a Maronite patriarch – Rai also expressed concern over the continued exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
“We are against any [Christian] migration,” he said.
“We know that all the extremist and terrorist groups and foreign interference aim for this but we have to remain steadfast.”
Rai highlighted the potential of the Arab Spring to descend into religious extremism. “I support the spring when it is a spring, not when it is a winter,” Reuters quoted the patriarch as saying. “There should be changes in all Arab countries.
Dictatorships cannot survive today, we need democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of belief and worship... [But] I fear radical groups might take power and (bring) extremist rule.”Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.