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Sleiman: International support essential for defense strategy

French president Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with his Lebanese counterpart Michel Sleiman at the start of a press conference after their meeting as part of talks on helping Lebanon cope with the conflict in Syria, on March 5, 2014 at the Elysee palace in Paris. AFP PHOTO ALAIN JOCARD.

BEIRUT: International support for the Lebanese Army is vital if the country is to implement a national defense strategy, President Michel Sleiman said Wednesday, referring to the plan he presented to the Dialogue Committee last year.

“I hope that the international decision to support the Army is realized on the ground [because this would allow us to] implement the defense strategy that I presented to the Dialogue Committee,” Sleiman said during a press conference at the Elysee palace in Paris after the first session of a two-day conference hosted by the International Support Group for Lebanon.

The ISGL was launched in New York last September to support the country’s national institutions and Army, along with helping Lebanon cope with the influx close to a million refugees from Syria.

Sleiman last year submitted a defense strategy to the Lebanese rivals suggesting the incorporation of Hezbollah’s arms under Lebanese Army command.

The president thanked the Saudi kingdom for its three-billion-dollar grant to the Army, while also hailing the Italian government for providing equipment and training to Lebanese troops.

He added that the ISGL’s meeting “demonstrates the international community's keenness to help Lebanon.”’

“We are determined to overcome the various obstacles that are facing the country in implementing various projects aimed at revitalizing its economy,” Sleiman said.

Sleiman also appealed to the international community to help Lebanon address the Syrian refugee crisis.

“The world should be aware that the issue of refugees is a major risk threatening the Lebanese social fabric; we are in need of direct support to the country’s ministerial programs aimed at helping the refugees in the fields of education, health and energy,” Sleiman said.

He also called on the international community “to commit to funds previously pledged to Lebanon” and “to share the responsibility of hosting refugees.”

The ISGL conference was attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Minister William Hague and other top officials.

Lebanon, with a weak government and threadbare national infrastructure even before the Syrian crisis erupted almost three years ago, has struggled to support the Syrian refugees flooding into the country.

 

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