BEIRUT: Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil Sunday affirmed Lebanon’s right to a resistance against Israeli aggression and occupation, warning that the country is in danger of becoming a conduit for jihadists worldwide as it faces the worst refugee crisis in modern times.
Speaking at an Arab League summit in Cairo, Bassil appealed to Arab states to help Lebanon with the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees on its soil, and to assist the country combat terrorism by funding the Lebanese Army.
“Lebanon has the right to liberate the Shebaa Farms, Kfarshouba Hills and the Lebanese sector of Ghajar, and to resist any Israeli aggression or occupation with all available, legitimate means. It is a right that no one in the Arab community has any interest in abandoning,” Bassil told the summit in his 15-minute address, his first in his new position.
His comments come as rival Lebanese parties struggle to draft the new Cabinet’s policy statement given a deep-rooted dispute over the resistance clause which March 14 coalition ministers believe legitimizes Hezbollah’s arms.
Bassil also spoke about the danger posed by the rise of Jihadist groups in Lebanon, saying such a phenomenon threatened the entire Arab world.
“The danger is not only that Lebanon is seeing a rise of epicenters of Jihadist thought, but that it could become a center to export jihad to the East and West,” he said.
“What will become of the Arab world if its cultural door to the West, Lebanon, becomes passageway for those who seek to destroy all cultures?” Bassil added.
He said terrorism in the region should be combatted with “enlightened Arab thought” and regional polices.
“However, combating such terrorism in Lebanon requires a strong army and your support to fund it and arm it so that it can be Lebanon’s shield against all dangers and yours as well,” he said.
“While we thank Saudi Arabia for its generous grant, we hope that the April conference in Rome under the umbrella of the United Nations is an opportunity for Arab support for the Army,” he added.
Bassil spoke extensively about the refugee crisis in Lebanon, asking Arab countries to share the burden of sheltering refugees.
“It is not only about social, economic, political, security or national [concerns] for Lebanon, it concerns [the country's] existence, its entity and its components,” he said.
“We should not only help the refugees but those providing the refuge as well: the [Lebanese] state and its institutions, which are already worn out and struggling with the needs of refugees,” he added.
“It is about the 1.4 million Syrian refugees accounting for a third of the Lebanese population ... every number is a communal tragedy in terms of economy, security, education, medical care, prisons and even graves,” Bassil said.
Citing numbers from the U.N. High Relief Commission, Bassil said Lebanon was witnessing “the biggest refugee crisis in modern times and the percentage of refugees per capital is the largest in history.”
“Do you know that Lebanon is sheltering 45 percent of Syrian refugees while the refugee centers have not yet received any international aid?” he said, noting that Lebanon had taken in more refugees than Iraq, Jordan or Turkey.
He also spoke about the recent World Bank report which estimated that the crisis in Syria had cost Lebanon $7.5 billion with poverty level expected to reach 30 percent and unemployment 50 percent.
“The policy of open doors can no longer be adopted and implosion is inevitable if it continues. Unfortunately, it will also affect other countries as well,” he said.
“Demanding [for others] to share the burden will no longer be useful if it is not accompanied by a fair distribution of refugees in safe areas in Syria and neighboring and distant Arab countries, as well as sharing the financial burden on Lebanon’s treasury in terms of electricity use, hospitalization, education and so on,” Bassil said.
He also reiterated Lebanon’s demand for the establishment of refugee centers inside Syria close to Lebanon’s border, which would facilitate the transfer of aid inside the war-torn country.
“Lebanon is screaming in pain, for God’s sake respond to it so that it does not have to send any refugee back,” he said.
He also said Lebanon would adopt a policy of “active diplomacy” to cooperate with Arab countries in the face of dangers.