BEIRUT: Arab foreign ministers stressed Sunday Lebanon’s right to liberate its Israeli-occupied territories and resist Israeli aggression, adding that they would ask Arab states to share the huge burden of hosting Syrian refugees.
“Lebanon and the Lebanese have the right to liberate or retrieve the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shuba Hills and the Lebanese part of the Ghajar village, and to resist any Israeli aggression or occupation with all legitimate and available means,” said a statement by the ministers who met in Cairo to prepare for the Arab League summit which will convene in Kuwait on March 25.
The statement about resistance was made earlier by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in a speech during the meeting.
Bassil’s comments came as talks to draft the policy statement for Lebanon’s new government were deadlocked over whether to mention the resistance – or Hezbollah’s right to use its arms to liberate Lebanese territories and defend the country against any Israeli occupation – in the political blueprint.
The March 14 coalition believes that resistance should be under the authority of the government, a demand opposed by Hezbollah and other March 8 parties.
Arab foreign ministers decided to ask Arab states that are members of the Arab League to share the burden of hosting over a million Syrian refugees with Lebanon, stressing that their displacement was temporary.
The foreign ministers hailed the role played by the Army in preserving stability and civil peace, welcoming a $3 billion Saudi grant to the military establishment.
Bassil said that anyone, whether a Lebanese citizen or not, couldn’t but acknowledge the humane and natural right of resistance, derived from the Human Rights Charter, the U.N. Charter, the Arab League Charter and the Constitution approved in the 1989 Taif Agreement which ended Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War.
He appealed to Arab states to help Lebanon with the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees on its soil, and to help the country combat terrorism by funding the Army.
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 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 a passageway for those who seek to destroy all cultures?” Bassil added.
He said terrorism in the region should be fought with “enlightened Arab thought” and regional policies.
“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 will be an opportunity for Arabs to support 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.
“It is about the 1.4 million Syrian refugees accounting for a third of the Lebanese population ... every number is a tragedy in terms of economy, security, education, medical care, prisons and even graves,” Bassil said.
“Do you know that Lebanon is sheltering 45 percent of Syrian refugees while refugee centers have not yet received 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 levels expected to reach 30 percent and unemployment 50 percent.
“The open door policy can no longer be implemented, collapse is inevitable if it continues. Unfortunately, it will affect other countries as well,” he said.
“Demanding [that others] 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,” Bassil said.