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FM says Syria crisis poses threat to Lebanon

Lebanese FM Gebran Bassil warns of plot to extend stay of refugees in his nation in bid to create military blocs there.

Last updated: 24 Mar 2014 16:34
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Bassil said that his country renewed its plea for Arab nations to help with the Syrian refugee crisis [AFP]

Kuwait City, Kuwait - Gebran Bassil, Lebanon's foreign minister, has warned of a "plot" to extend the stay of Syrian refugees sheltered in his country, with an aim to establish military blocs there.

At least a million Syrians have sought asylum in neighbouring Lebanon as peaceful protests demanding the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011 turned into a raging war which had killed at least 130,000 people.

"There is a plot to keep Syrian refugees for a long time in Lebanon at the expense of nationals," Bassil told a news conference in Kuwait on Monday, a day before the Arab world's leaders were scheduled to meet for the 25th Arab League Summit in the country.

"There is a plot to establish military blocs in Lebanon. This threatens the existence of Lebanon as a whole, and is a threat to the whole world."

Bassil said that his country renewed its plea for Arab nations to help with the Syrian refugee crisis.

"The influx of Syrian refugees must be stopped, and they must be redistributed among all Arab countries and they must be returned to their homes as part of an comprehensive political solution," the minister said.

'Terrorism's claws'

Bassil also reiterated his country's need for aid to boost the ability of its army to confront a spike in violence which has spilled over from the neighbouring civil war.

"Lebanon is falling deeper and deeper into terrorisms' claws, and it is crucial that the army be propelled to combat it. The Arab world's assistance with this quest is in its own interest,"  Bassil said.

"Lebanon's army is fighting terrorism on behalf of the Arab world and it is best if it's eradicated in its birthplace,"

He added that he hoped that a resolution to bolster the Lebanese army, made in ministerial meetings ahead of the summit, would be "turned into reality".

"This boost is not only politically, but through armament and weapons," he said.

An international conference to support the Lebanese military is to be held in Rome on April 10 in line with a United Nations initiative in New York last year.

A similar conference hosted in Paris earlier in March, at the request of the New York-formed International Support Group, has so far fallen short of securing tangible assistance.

Tensions between various sectarian groups in Lebanon have intensified as each have backed rival parties in Syria's war.

Hezbollah has backed Assad's regime, while Lebanese Sunnis have generally endorsed Syrian rebels.

Frequent clashes, as well as attacks by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, (ISIL) continue to claim lives.

In the latest violence, at least 29 people were killed near Syria's border, in the northern city of Tripoli, when gunmen fired automatic weapons, mortar bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

About 130 people were also injured in the weekend's clashes.

Saudi aid

Bassil said that a Saudi grant of $3bn, twice as much as Lebanon's military budget, was being processed and would "hopefully be completed soon".

Saudi has pledged the aid to arm the Lebanese army with French weaponry.

The move has stirred controversy as it undermines Hezbollah's argument for its need to have a military wing to back the state's weak army.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, is an arch foe of the Sunni powerhouse of Saudi.

There has been scepticism on the usefulness of the French army to a military which is highly dependent on US training and armament.

Bassil brushed off these claims, saying that "technical negotiations are under way to match the army's needs with what it is equipped with".

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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