BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Wednesday called on the international community to enhance support for the Lebanese Army in its work at the vanguard of the fight against “terrorism.”
We need “actual not verbal support,” he said during a speech at the four-day ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Algeria, which began May 26.
He urged the international community to support the Lebanese Army so that it could protect its borders and resources without needing help from internal or external actors. Support for the Army, according to Bassil, would not only enable it to ensure state sovereignty over all Lebanese territory, but also improve its capacity to confront terrorism.
“With its message, model, structure and segments, Lebanon spearheads the campaign against terrorism. It is combatting it on your behalf,” Bassil said.
Representatives of 120 member and observer countries, including 60 foreign ministers, attended the event at Umam Palace in Algiers.
Bassil called for economic support to enable Lebanon to handle the refugee crisis. More than 1 million Syrians have registered as refugees in Lebanon, and officials say that as many as another million are here unregistered.
“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 economic losses inflicted by the crisis, estimated to 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 worsening poverty, strains on public services, and student-to-teacher ratios due to the influx of Syrians. He said the Cabinet had begun to address these problems at its last meeting.
Stopping the flow of refugees was at the top of the agenda, he said, while the second step was reducing the number already in the country.
Referring throughout his speech to “economic immigrants” rather than refugees, Bassil said the government would ensure that the dignity and safety of the displaced was protected when they returned home. Remaining refugees, he said, would be hosted in safe camps either inside Syria or in the no-man’s land between the two countries’ borders.
Bassil also touched on Lebanon’s right to free itself from all occupation, specifically the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills.
Lebanon’s identity is about tolerance, 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.”