BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour said Wednesday critics of Hezbollah’s role in Syria were seeking to divert attention from what he called the “takfiri” threat.
“Whoever claims that what is happening in Lebanon is the result of Hezbollah’s participation in Syria seeks to divert attention from the facts and [provide] cover for the presence of takfiris and extremist groups in Lebanon,” Mansour said at Geneva II, the U.N. peace conference on Syria being held in Montreux, Switzerland.
He also said that the repercussions from the crisis in Syria represented major challenges to Lebanon’s security, stability, economy and demographic makeup.
“Perhaps the primary danger here is terrorism, which is striking us today armed with radical, takfiri thoughts to [encourage us to] reject others, something Lebanon has never witnessed before,” he said. “The repercussions from the Syria crisis ... have extended to neighboring countries, where the region has become an arena for terrorism, becoming a reality of the fighting in Syria.”
Calling for a joint international effort to combat terrorism, Mansour said groups linked directly to terrorist organizations had entered the country and carried out a series of bombings.
Lebanon has been hit by a string of car bombs, most of which have taken place in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys broad support. Radical rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces have claimed responsibility for some of the bombings.
The March 14 coalition has repeatedly blamed Hezbollah for the recent attacks and says the party’s interference violates the country’s disassociation policy.
During his seven-minute speech at the Geneva II peace talks, Mansour, who belongs to the March 8 political bloc, also spoke about the disassociation policy adopted by the Lebanese government.
“With this policy, we sought to refrain from intervening in Syrian affairs but we knew from the beginning that Syria ... would be able to resolve its problems without direct or indirect foreign intervention.”
He said foreign intervention in Syria had plunged the country into a cycle of violence “as the world counted its victims as well as the number of fighters from all over the world coming into [Syria].”
He added: “ Lebanon disassociated itself from the Syrian events but the events did not disassociate themselves [from Lebanon] and they affected its security and stability.”
Diplomatic sources told The Daily Star that Mansour’s statement was in line with the official Lebanese position that is based on disassociating Lebanon from the Syrian crisis.
Mansour called on the international community to help Lebanon cope with the overwhelming number of refugees on its soil, describing the Geneva peace talks as a “golden opportunity” to reach a political solution that would allow the displaced to return to home.
“The solution can only be Syrian. Syrians alone can decide the future of their nation at a distance from interventions that only worsen the situation,” he said.
Mansour called for a quick political solution – one in which Syrians resolve their own differences without foreign intervention – that allows for the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.
The diplomatic sources said that what was noticeable during the first day of the Geneva II conference was the high-pitched and sharp tone that marked the speeches of not just the official Syrian government delegation and the opposition, but also those of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This does not indicate a good start to finding solutions to the conflict, the sources said.
And for the first time, delegates of the Syrian regime and the opposition sat face to face on benches.
Many observers remarked on Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal’s decision to address Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba as “Mr. President.”
According to the sources, what could be concluded from Wednesday’s talks was that failure to reach a political agreement would result in a set statement along the lines of Geneva I – with the addition of an agreement on a date for Geneva III, which is expected to take place approximately one month later.
Also likely is a deal on a temporary cease-fire, as well as the facilitation of the entry of humanitarian aid.
What remains unclear, the sources said, is how the principles of Geneva I will be applied and built upon.