BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman will head to France Tuesday to attend a one-day conference that is expected to result in the establishment of a special fund to help Lebanon cope with the huge influx of Syrian refugees.
Wednesday’s conference, which is being held by the International Support Group for Lebanon, will see French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabuis read out the “Paris Declaration” that will create a special fund to provide financial aid to Lebanon, according to a member of the official Lebanese delegation who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The conference will also allocate military aid to the Lebanese Army, the source said.
Finland, Norway and the World Bank have already pledged $50 million to the fund and more money is expected to be donated as a result of the talks, the delegation member said.
Bringing together world powers, the ISGL was launched by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Sleiman last September with the aim of supporting Lebanon’s national institutions and the Army as well as helping the country deal with over 1 million Syrian refugees living on its territory.
Also attending Wednesday’s talks will be U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Headed by Sleiman, Lebanon’s official delegation will comprise Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas and Sleiman’s advisers, Naji Abi Assi and Chadi Karam.
The delegation is expected to leave Lebanon Tuesday evening and land in Paris early Wednesday.
Wednesday morning will see delegations meet at the Elysee Palace for an address by French President Francois Hollande and Sleiman. Participants will then head to the French Foreign Ministry for a closed-door meeting, after which the Paris Declaration will be announced.
During the talks, France is expected to highlight the need for Lebanon to disassociate itself from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Hollande is set to hold a private meeting with Sleiman during which the two will discuss the situation in Lebanon and the wider region.
The French president is expected to stress the importance of holding presidential and parliamentary elections on time.
A presidential elections is scheduled for spring while parliamentary polls are due in November. Uncertainty hangs over both events, as Lebanon failed to hold parliamentary elections on time last year and the country was plunged into a six-month presidential vacuum prior to Sleiman’s election in May 2008.
The Paris gathering will be followed by the Rome conference to discuss means to support the poorly equipped Lebanese Army.
The Italian meeting follows a $3 billion Saudi grant announced last year in which France is supposed to provide the Army with any weapons it asks for.
Lebanon has increasingly been feeling the socio-economic and security repercussions of the 3-year-old civil war in neighboring Syria, and lacks sufficient resources to cope with the refugee crisis.
Syria’s war has also fueled sporadic clashes in the northern city of Tripoli between supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and rivals in the mainly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
The country has also witnessed a wave of deadly explosions, mainly involving suicide bomb attacks targeting Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley town of Hermel, both of which are areas associated with Hezbollah.
Syrian rebel groups have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, saying they were in retaliation to the party’s involvement in Syria’s war alongside Assad.