BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s number two Sheikh Naim Qassem rejected Saturday the idea of establishing refugee camps for Syrians fleeing violence in their country, saying these would ultimately pose a threat to Lebanon and its neighbor.
“We cannot accept refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon because any camp for Syrians in Lebanon will turn to a military pocket that will be used as a launch pad against Syria and then against Lebanon,” the Hezbollah deputy secretary-general said during a political conference in Ghobeiri in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
“These sorts of groups pass into continents and countries and have no loyalty to any one country. They move holding several nationalities from one place to the next. What would Lebanon stand to gain by allowing some to turn it into a place or conduit to harm Syria and Lebanon at the same time?” the Hezbollah official said.
Qassem’s comments came a day after Lebanon pledged to prevent any attacks from its territory against its neighbor. Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali has repeatedly demanded that Lebanon tighten security and prevent arms-smuggling across the poorly demarcated, porous border.
In late 2011, March 14 coalition officials hinted that Lebanon should consider establishing a Syrian refugee camp in north Lebanon to accommodate the constant flow of Syrians fleeing the crackdown in their country.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are around 7,000 registered refugees in the north of Lebanon. The U.N. body also says there is a growing population of Syrian refugees living south of Beirut, totaling around 4,000 people, who the organization is monitoring and looking to offer aid to.
Although rejecting the establishment of refugee camps, Qassem said there were standard conventions of offering humanitarian assistance that did not require the need for setting up camps.
Qassem also accused the United States of meddling in Lebanese affairs by trying to have Beirut protest armed Syrians against Damascus.
“We saw how the American ambassador overstepped her limits and wanted to order Lebanon to protect armed Syrians against the regime,” Qassem said.
“To [U.S. Ambassador Maura] Connelly we say: the days that the U.S. administration issues orders in Lebanon are over. Now is the time when Lebanon takes its own decisions,” he added.
Last week, Connelly called for the protection of all disarmed Syrians, including members of the Free Syrian Army, during a meeting with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.
She also recognized Lebanon’s efforts in providing assistance to Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country and encouraged the government to continue its cooperation with the international community in providing humanitarian assistance and "safety of all Syrians who have fled to Lebanon, including dissenters and deserters.”
During the conference in the southern suburbs, the Hezbollah official also slammed the March 14 alliance, saying the opposition grouping had made the wrong choices.
“Those who wagered on developments in Syria have failed miserably. March 14 are muddling their political choices and proposals and is moving from failure to failure at the Lebanese and Syrian levels as well as at the level of the project they are contemplating,” Qassem said.
The Hezbollah official said the opposition group needed to rethink its strategy.
“They were expecting that there would be a regime change in Syria and that this would have an impact in Lebanon to change the equation in Lebanon from the outside,” he said, adding: “They didn’t get the power from the inside, nor did they get it from the outside. Just as they failed from 2005 to 2011, today they have failed in their bet on Syria and have indulged with circles outside the interest of Lebanon.”
On the subject of the Lebanese government, Qassem said the Cabinet was needed and would continue.
“Everyone sees this government as a necessity for the parliamentary elections,” he said.
Qassem also spoke on the divisive issue of extra-budgetary spending by various governments, particularly under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The Hezbollah officials said his group was for a legal resolution over the spending issue but “we cannot give approval to spending that is not clear and illegal.”
The Cabinet decided Friday to task Prime Minister Najib Mikati with drafting a new plan to deal with the issue of extra-budgetary government between 2006 and 2010.