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Lebanon News

International diplomacy in full gear over Lebanon aid

File - President Michel Sleiman speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

A series of meetings will be held in Beirut, New York and with the World Bank in Washington to follow up on the recommendations adopted by the International Support Group for Lebanon to help the cash-strapped country cope with the influx of Syrian refugees and bolster its stability.

President Michel Sleiman is scheduled to meet with the ambassadors of the European Union’s states at Baabda Palace Monday.

This meeting will be followed by a similar gathering in the following week with the ambassadors of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members to assess the International Group’s recommendations that were approved during the group’s meeting in New York last month.

Sources familiar with the issue said caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour would also oversee a series of meetings devoted to following up moves aimed at drawing up a mechanism to implement the “declaration of intent” reached by the group’s meeting after the World Bank had finalized a financial draft paper that outlines Lebanon’s needs.

The group seeks to address the refugee crisis by supporting Lebanon’s economy, the Lebanese Army and the government in order for the country to better cope with the rising number of Syrians.

Officials in Lebanon have said that the number of refugees, registered and unregistered, has reached 1.3 million. Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour cited statistics from the World Bank that indicated the refugee crisis would cost the Lebanese economy some $7.5 billion.

In assessing the results of the group’s meeting, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star: “What the U.N. General Assembly witnessed was an unprecedented meeting to establish a support group for Lebanon, made up of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent member states, the EU’s Commission General, the Arab League’s Secretariat General and specialized bodies at the United Nations. The group will continue to follow up on Lebanon, take initiatives when necessary and follow up the implementation of the declaration issued by the meeting.”

The source, who closely followed the meetings in New York, said the Lebanese parties and the concerned regional parties should be approached in order to push them into complying with the group’s declaration as well as respecting the requirements of the Baabda Declaration and the need to neutralize Lebanon from regional and international conflicts and support its economy and its legitimate institutions, at the forefront of which is the Lebanese Army.

The source added that the prevailing belief in these regional states is that the consolidation of the Baabda Declaration on firm and clear bases and the stability resulting from it would restore the state’s prestige and set the economic wheel into motion, in a move that would help attract tourists and ensure the requirements of social and economic development.

The same thing applies to the issue of Syrian refugees, the presidential source said.

“Although it is important to continue efforts to secure funds to meet the refugees’ needs in Lebanon, fulfilling the conditions for the refugees’ gradual return to Syria and finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis will be more effective in dealing with the burden of the refugees,” the source said.

Sleiman chaired a meeting at Baabda Palace Friday attended by his advisers to draw up a plan of action aimed at following up the implementation of the International Group’s recommendations.

In assessing the group’s recommendations, the participants agreed on a four-way road map: Drawing up a plan to divide the costs of hosting the refugees and the countries that will share with Lebanon these burdens; sending back part of the refugees to Syrian territories which have regained stability; implementing an accommodation plan began by some Western states, like Germany and Sweden; and translating the aid approved at the New York conference and paying compensations to Lebanon for the losses it has sustained at the economic, security, social, educational and health levels since the conflict broke out in March 2011.

The participants raised questions such as what will the situation be like if military operations are renewed in Syrian areas that have routes to Lebanon? Which is the side that can decide on the return of refugees to safe territories? Will the refugees who oppose the regime be allowed to return?

In Lebanon, which is the side that will sponsor the disassociation policy and who will guarantee to encourage Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria?

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 07, 2013, on page 3.

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