BEIRUT: Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil Wednesday called on the international community to reform the United Nations and enhance support for the Lebanon’s Army and other national institutions, highlighting the need for the country to free itself from all remaining occupation in the south.
We need “actual not verbal support,” he said during a speech at the four-day 17th ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Algeria, which began May 26.
Bassil called for economic support to enable Lebanon to handle the refugee crisis, which has seen more than 1 million Syrians enter the country to seek safety from the civil war next door.
“Lebanon was subject to a drastic demographic change to the extent that half its population is currently non-Lebanese,” he said. Prior to the Syrian war, Lebanon’s population was just over 4 million.
He highlighted the direct economic losses inflicted by the crisis, which are estimated to have come to $7.5 billion. The unemployment rate has risen to 30 percent, he added, and incarceration rates have increased by roughly the same amount.
Bassil also pointed to the increased poverty, strain on public services, and student-to-teacher ratio due to the refugee influx.
“Our consensual common principles shall be a motivation to ... reintroduce life and reform to the United Nations in order to bring it back to its original role,” said Bassil, referring to the principles of self-determination and justice.
Bassil’s speech also touched on the right of Lebanon to free its land from all occupations, specifically the Shebaa Farms and the Kfarshouba Hills.
In this vein, he urged the international community to support the Lebanese Army so that it can protect its borders and resources without needing help from internal or external actors. Support to the Army, according to Bassil, would not only enable it to ensure state sovereignty over all Lebanese territory, but also improve its ability to confront terrorism.
Lebanon’s identity is about tolerance and openness, he stressed, and this necessitates that the Lebanese cooperate in the struggle against “those who call for hatred, conflicts and the elimination of the other.”