BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army is not under Hezbollah’s control despite criticism from some groups, and international support for the military is critical, President Michel Sleiman said in remarks published Tuesday.
“Those who believe that the Army is under the influence of Hezbollah are wrong," Sleiman told the French newspaper Le Figaro.
His remarks were translated into Arabic and published by the local daily Al-Joumhouria.
Sleiman was speaking to the newspaper in New York where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting and making an international appeal to help Lebanon's cope with large numbers of Syrian refugees and preserve the country's security from the war next door.
The president said boosting support for the Army can help insulate the nation from violent spillover of the Syrian conflict and could lead to changing control of Hezbollah’s armed presence in the country.
Sleiman said he believes the solution to Hezbollah’s disarmament would be providing military aid to the Lebanese Army.
“Strengthening the Lebanese Army with anti-aircraft defenses and artillery systems is the only way that will convince Hezbollah to handover its weapons,” Sleiman said, while adding that Hezbollah’s military agenda has led to the rise of Sunni extremist groups.
“This issue will find a definitive answer in the defense strategy draft I submitted to the Lebanese National Dialogue committee and was welcomed by the U.N. Secretary-General,” he said.
Sleiman has proposed a plan to incorporate Hezbollah’s weapons into Army control under a new national defense strategy. The plan has seen very little consideration.
Sleiman, however, lamented at the failure to implement U.N. resolutions over the past two decades.
“ Hezbollah played a leading role in the liberation of a large section of Lebanese territory occupied by Israel until 2000, while U.N. resolutions remained ink on paper for the past 22 years,” he said.
On the issue of Syrian refugees, Sleiman said it is in the interest of the international community to help Lebanon cope with the influx of refugees.
Sleiman will attend a special gathering to support Lebanon as it struggles to cope with spillover from the Syrian conflict to be held on the sidelines of the U.N. meet.
The president is expected to make an appeal for aid and hold several high level meetings with international leaders over Lebanon’s situation.
“Today there is turmoil in the region, so it is in everybody’s interest to help us overcome this difficult stage,” Sleiman told Le Figaro.
He pointed to a recent World Bank report that said the Syria war will cost Lebanon $7.5 billion in economic losses by the end of next year.
Over a million Syrians have fled across the border into Lebanon since the start of the crisis in March 2011. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is aiding over 755,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Sleiman will deliver a speech before the conference which will lay out the need for friendly states to support Lebanon, its constitutional bodies and its political, security and economic stability.
Lebanon has repeatedly called for international assistance to address the refugee crisis, complaining that pledged assistance from the international community has failed to materialize.