BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Friday that Lebanese fighting in Syria should withdraw from the war ravaged country and voiced opposition over extending his term, set to expire in 2014.
“Withdrawing from Syria should result from the implementation of the Baabda Declaration and those involved in Syria should place Lebanon's interest above others,” Sleiman told state-run Tele Liban Television, in an implicit reference to Hezbollah.
“Lebanon’s interest lies in maintaining distance and refraining from interference in Syria and I hope that everyone commits to that and the Baabda Declaration by withdrawing from Syria,” he added.
The Baabda Declaration is an agreement signed by rival groups last year during a National Dialogue session that calls for distancing Lebanon from regional turmoil, particularly the crisis in neighboring Syria.
Hezbollah has come under heavy international and local criticism for its involvement in the fighting alongside Syrian regime forces against rebel groups.
Sleiman’s remarks come hours after he arrived to Lebanon from New York where he attended the U.N. General Assembly meetings which included the International Support Group for Lebanon conference earlier this week.
The conference addressed Lebanon’s deteriorating economic conditions, the rising number of Syrian refugees in the country and the support needed for the Lebanese Army to improve border security.
During the interview, Sleiman also opposed extending his own term which is set to expire on May 25 of 2014.
“I reject the extension because I don’t believe it is impossible to elect a president,” he said, criticizing some parties for boycotting the parliamentary sessions.
“Working based on our own interests disrupts elections. I have already said that disrupting elections is not democratic and similar to boycotting Parliament sessions and Constitutional Council meetings,” he said.
The Future Movement and some March 14 coalition parties boycotted several parliamentary sessions called for by Speaker Nabih Berri, arguing that the legislative branch should only convene to approve immediate draft laws in the presence of a resigned government.
“Quorum could be lost in the presence of a force majeure, which happened during the period of Israeli occupation when quorum was lost for a session to elect a president,” Sleiman said, adding that all MPs should attend the Parliament session to nominate a new president.
“There is no need for consensus between MPs for the [election of the] president as the law and the Constitution forces them to do so,” he said.
Asked about the international conference in New York attended by representatives of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Sleiman said the meeting was “more of a political process than a technical one.”
He added that more meetings will be scheduled to follow up on proposals made during the meeting to help Lebanon cope with the presence of some 1.2 million Syrians.
“I proposed the idea of sharing the burden and relocating refugees for the sake of sharing that burden. A committee will be formed on Oct. 3 to address this issue,” he said.
Other committees responsible for returning the refugees and financially supporting them will also be formed.
Sleiman also spoke about his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this week in New York and said the two discussed the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
“It is important for the U.S. president and other officials to listen to the opinion of the only Christian president in the Arab region so they can at least base their policies, not just in their interests, but also in the interest of minorities,” he said.
He also hoped for the U.S. and other countries to increase their financial support to the Lebanese Army, adding that the total amount Washington has provided to Lebanon so far this year is $88 million.