BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top diplomat said Monday that the country should stop the influx of Syrian refugees or risk the weakening of the state.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon should be resettled in neighboring countries or abroad, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said.
“Today there are two urgent threats facing Lebanon,” Bassil said at a news conference in Kuwait City ahead of the Arab summit. “The first issue is that of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”
Lebanon is reeling from the impact of a spiraling refugee crisis. More than 980,000 refugees have fled the war in Syria into Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The crisis has stretched Lebanon’s health care and social welfare systems to the limit. There are no formal refugee camps for Syrians, and most live among host communities.
Bassil said Monday that during a meeting of Arab League Foreign Ministers he had urged the creation of “settlements” for refugees outside Lebanon.
He also said the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon “must be stopped” and called for their redistribution to other neighboring countries and to nations abroad.
Syrians must be able to return home after a peaceful, political solution is found for the crisis, he said.
Bassil also warned against what he described as a “plot” to retain large numbers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in the long term, and the possibility of groups of armed Syrians gaining a foothold in the country.
Bassil said the other danger to Lebanon was terrorism.
“Lebanon and its people are hostage to blind and hateful terrorism that is sneaking in from Arab states,” he said.
Lebanon has suffered under numerous bombings, rocket attacks and clashes linked to the Syrian crisis in recent months targeting areas associated with Hezbollah. Radical groups who claim responsibility for the attacks cite the party’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Bassil added that he hoped Arabs would work toward the implementation of an agreement reached during Monday’s meeting in Kuwait to support the Lebanese Army and bolster its military capabilities in its fight against terrorism.
Bassil hailed the “unprecedented” $3 billion Saudi grant to equip the Army with the necessary weapons from France.
“We strive to arm the Lebanese Army [because] Lebanon is fighting terrorism for all the Arabs,” he said.
President Michel Sleiman flew to Kuwait Monday to take part in the two-day Arab League summit, scheduled to kick off Tuesday.
Sleiman instructed Bassil to document the “recent aerial and rocket attacks [from Syria] on Lebanese villages in order to take the appropriate diplomatic measures,” a statement from his office said.