BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top leaders called for a political solution to the 19-month-old crisis in Syria during meetings with the international envoy to the Syrian conflict Wednesday.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati also reiterated to U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi the government’s commitment to the disassociation policy on developments of the bloody conflict in Syria, saying this policy has helped maintain stability in Lebanon.
Brahimi left Beirut for Amman, Jordan, following a short visit during which he held talks with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Mikati on developments in the region, particularly the conflict in Syria and its repercussions on neighboring countries, the state-run National News Agency reported.
His visit to Beirut was part of a regional tour designed to muster support for his proposal for a truce in the ongoing fierce fighting in Syria between government troops and rebel groups during the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Oct. 26. The Syrian government and opposition leadership have cautiously welcomed Brahimi’s proposal.
During his meeting with Brahimi at the Baabda Palace, Sleiman hoped that “a peaceful solution would be found for the crisis in Syria through dialogue and away from any foreign military intervention.”
According to a statement released by the president’s media office, Sleiman renewed Lebanon’s commitment to the “‘Baabda Declaration’ which called for neutralizing Lebanon from regional conflicts and rejecting the creation of buffer zones and the flow of gunmen and arms” from Lebanon to Syria.
The so-called “Baabda Declaration” agreed by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders at the June 11 National Dialogue meeting called for “keeping Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts and sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises.”
Sleiman told Brahimi that the persistence of the conflict would leave “negative repercussions” on neighboring countries, the statement said.
It added that the president expressed hope that Brahimi would succeed in his peace mission and be able to find common grounds for a peaceful settlement to end the conflict in Syria which, according to activists and monitors, has killed more than 33,000 people since the outbreak of the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime in March 2011.
Sleiman also called for a solution for the problem of thousands of Syrians who fled the fighting in Syria to neighboring countries “so as to allow their return to their home country once the shape of a political solution has been crystallized.”
Sources that participated in the Baabda meeting told The Daily Star that Sleiman stressed the need for a “peaceful” initiative to end the conflict in Syria, taking into account the concerns of all Syrian parties, including the opposition and pro-government groups.
In his talks with the three Lebanese leaders, Brahimi disclosed a host of ideas summed up in the Geneva Declaration which called for a halt to violence and for the Syrian regime and opposition factions to engage in a serious dialogue to resolve the crisis and the formation of a transitional government with full powers, the sources said.
They added that at the root of the problem was that Assad refused to cede any of his powers, while the opposition has demanded the departure of Assad and his regime as a condition for national dialogue.
Brahimi also briefed Sleiman on the results of his meetings with officials in the countries he had visited. He said he would pursue his mission to find a solution for the crisis in Syria.
During his meeting with Brahimi at the Grand Serail, Mikati defended his government’s policy to distance Lebanon from the Syrian conflict. He hoped that efforts exerted “to stop the ongoing violence in Syria would bear fruits and a political solution for the crisis would be reached according to what the Syrian people would decide.”
Mikati told the U.N. envoy that Lebanon supported his mission in working to end the conflict in Syria and halt the killings and destruction so the country can regain its stability, according to a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
“The Lebanese government has been committed to the disassociation policy since the beginning of the current events in Syria for three reasons: The internal Lebanese divisions over addressing the Syrian issue; the historic, geographical and economic considerations between Lebanon and Syria; and Lebanon’s relationship with the Arab world in particular,” Mikati told Brahimi, according to the statement.
“With the passing of time, it turned out that this policy, which has been criticized by some, has won Arab and international support which we had felt in all meetings we held because it had contributed toward maintaining stability in Lebanon and protecting it from the repercussions of the Syrian events,” Mikati added.
Seeking to avoid a spillover of the turmoil in Syria into Lebanon, the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of disassociation from the conflict next door. But the opposition March 14 parties have criticized the policy and accused the government of siding with the Assad regime.
March 14 politicians have also blasted Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in the Syrian conflict, saying the party’s action contravened with the government’s disassociation policy.
Lebanon’s rival political factions are sharply split over the crisis in Syria. While the March 14 parties strongly support the uprising against the Assad regime, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies back the regime.
Referring to the more than 60,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon who fled the sectarian fighting in their country, Mikati told Brahimi: “The Lebanese government, since the beginning of events in Syria, has been doing its humanitarian duties toward Syrian brothers who came to Lebanon in cooperation with international organizations,” according to the statement.
“But the continued influx of [Syrian] refugees requires bigger support from Arab and foreign states and humanitarian organizations because Lebanon alone is unable to bear more burdens,” Mikati added.
Speaking at a news conference at the Grand Serail, Brahimi said that Sleiman, Berri and Mikati have voiced their fears over the situation in Syria.
Asked to comment on reports of arms smuggling from Lebanon into Syria and Hezbollah’s alleged participation in the fighting alongside regime forces against the rebels in Syria, Brahimi said: “No one has spoken with me about these issues.”
Brahimi’s regional tour to countries playing influential roles in the Syrian crisis has taken him to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Brahimi said he would end his tour in Syria, but did not say when.
Sources said Brahimi would return to Lebanon at a later stage. – Additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab