BAABDA, Lebanon: President Michel Sleiman Friday called on foreign governments to distance Lebanon from any potential repercussions in the event of a U.S. military strike on Syria.
Sleiman urged “all external parties to keep Lebanon neutral from any potential action or reaction [over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria],” a statement from the Presidential Palace said.
His remarks came during a meeting of the Higher Defense Council at Baabda Palace.
During the meeting in Baabda, Sleiman reiterated that Lebanon opposed foreign intervention in Syria, the statement said.
It said that while Sleiman strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons, he called on the U.N. to shoulder its responsibility in determining which side used the weapons and hold them accountable.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati voiced similar views during a meeting with French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli.
Mikati “renewed his call to keep Lebanon neutral from conflicts that are taking place in the region and help [Lebanon] deal with the many issues facing it, particularly that of the Syrian refugees,” a statement from his office said.
Paoli handed Mikati a copy of the French report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and stressed that Paris would always stand by Lebanon.
Paoli said he wanted to convey a “message of friendship from France” and to say to the Lebanese people that Paris was always “on their side in these difficult times.”
The Higher Defense Council met Friday ahead of Sleiman’s visit to France to discuss the overall situation in the region and the establishment of a fund for the growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The meeting, chaired by Sleiman, was attended by security and military leaders as well as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the caretaker ministers of defense, interior, economy, finance, information and social affairs.
A statement released at the end of the meeting said the Council discussed the Syrian refugee crisis and the "possibility their number would increase in light of the developments [in Syria]."
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour briefed attendees about the measures taken to receive the refugees and monitor their movement, the statement said.
Abu Faour will meet later Friday the U.N.’s humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos.
The Council statement said caretaker Information Minister Walid Daouk also briefed attendees about the actions taken to “create a healthy media environment in line with the national interest.”
The Council also discussed measures taken to protect the headquarters of diplomatic missions in the wake of tensions in the Middle East and a possible U.S. military action against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
The Council keeps its decisions secret.
Sleiman, who heads to Nice later Friday, will meet with French President Francois Hollande to discuss developments in the region and the establishment of a refugee fund.
Sources who attended a similar meeting of the Higher Defense Council in July had told The Daily Star that the Council asked Cabinet ministers to convince Hezbollah and the Future Movement to support the establishment of reception centers for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Sleiman is heading a delegation for the Francophone Games in the southern city of Nice which will be held from Sept. 7 to Sept. 15.
Sleiman’s visit will cover a series of meetings with the other participating countries’ heads of state, most notably Hollande. Both leaders are set to discuss a number of regional concerns, particularly the Syrian conflict in light of France’s stance in favor of a potential strike against the Syrian government.
Hollande has expressed his will to support the United States to punish the Syrian regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
The meeting will also cover the implications of the Syria crisis on Lebanon, especially in terms of the large influx of refugees to the country, as their numbers have now reached more than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population, as well as the associated political, security and social complications.
Sleiman’s discussions with Hollande will mark an important milestone in managing the refugee crisis as it will be devoted to establishing a fund which France had previously called for.
The meeting will be dedicated to discussing methods of fortifying Lebanon and providing it with much-needed aid to manage the growing refugee population, which is expected to rise not only in Lebanon, but Turkey and Jordan as well.