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U.K. says battle ahead to keep Lebanon out of Syria war
Mikati, right, receives Fletcher at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Friday, May 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
Mikati, right, receives Fletcher at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Friday, May 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon urged that Beirut maintain a policy of neutrality toward events in Syria, voicing concern of the growing involvement of Hezbollah’s fighters in its neighbor.

“I raised our concerns about the role of Lebanese fighters in Syria. It is of great sadness that Iran is now sending sons of Lebanon to die for [President Bashar] Assad,” Ambassador Tom Fletcher said following talks with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah has in recent weeks stepped up its involvement in Lebanon’s neighbor, particularly in the Syrian border town of Qusair, where, along with Syrian government forces, it is trying to recapture the area from rebel forces.

Fletcher, who described the regional situation as “grave,” said Lebanon needed to maintain a policy of neutrality.

“Those who care most about Lebanese national interests must stand up for neutrality. We have a battle ahead to keep Lebanon out of the war,” Fletcher said, according to a statement from the U.K. Embassy.

In 2011, Beirut adopted the policy of disassociating itself from the crisis next door. Leading political figures also agreed to distance Lebanon from regional crises, particularly in war-torn Syria.

Fletcher also voiced regret over the delay of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections.

“[Mikati] also updated me on the postponement of parliamentary elections. We understand the tough context. But it is well known that the international community hoped that elections would take place. At its best, Lebanon has been a democratic talisman in the region,” he said.

“I know that one day we will see Lebanon play that role again,” he added.

Parliamentarians will meet later Friday to discuss postponing the term of the legislature after a failure to reach agreement over a new electoral law.

Lebanon’s elections were due to be held this month.

Fletcher stressed the need to support the Lebanese military, dialogue and efforts by the Prime Minister-designate to form a “consensus government.”

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