Hussein Dakroub| The Daily
BEIRUT: The Cabinet is slated to meet this week amid a snowballing row
over whether Lebanon should talk to the Syrian government to coordinate a safe return of Syrian
refugees to their country. The dispute between two rival Lebanese camps over whether Lebanon should
enter into direct talks with the Syrian regime on the refugees’ return to safe areas in the
war-ravaged country has seriously jolted Cabinet unity at a time the government is struggling to
stave off the negative fallout of the 6-year-old bloody conflict next
“There is no solution to the problem of the refugees’ return to their
country except through a dialogue with the Syrian government,” Minister of State for Parliamentary
Affairs Ali Qanso told The Daily Star Sunday.
“Since the refugees’ return
is a divisive issue, a dialogue among the Lebanese factions is required first before launching a
dialogue between the two governments on the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country,” he
Although the refugees’ issue is not listed on the agenda of this
week’s Cabinet session, Qanso, who represents the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in the Cabinet,
said that some ministers might opt to bring it up, given the urgency of the
During last week’s Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, Hezbollah
ministers and their allies called for direct talks with the Syrian government to coordinate the
refugees’ return. But Prime Minister Saad Hariri, backed by ministers of the Future Movement, the
Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, staunchly rejected any contact with Damascus,
saying this issue is the responsibility of the United Nations.
request, the thorny issue of the refugees’ return has been set aside.
to the ministers’ discord over the return of Syrian refugees to their country, it has been agreed to
put this issue in the hands of President Michel Aoun who will try to find a solution,” a source at
Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.
The source said that Hariri would chair
the Cabinet session scheduled to be held at the Grand Serail at 11 a.m. Wednesday with some 60 items
on the agenda.
Contrary to wide expectations, the Cabinet is unlikely to
approve any long-awaited appointments to fill a number of vacant administrative, diplomatic and
judicial posts because of conflicting proposals by ministers.
approving any appointments, the Cabinet will study and agree on a mechanism that will govern civil
service appointments,” the source said.
One important item on the agenda is
a proposal for generating electricity through wind farms as part of exploring cleaner and renewable
energy sources, the source added.
This item was supposed to be discussed
during last week’s session, but it was postponed because Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil was
visiting the United States.
Abi Khalil was also reported to be waiting for
a report from the government Tenders Department concerning his electricity reform plan to lease two
power barges to increase electricity supply over the summer.
The plan has
drawn opposition from key political parties and raised questions over whether Abi Khalil, who
represents the Free Patriotic Movement, had overstepped his jurisdiction to carry out the bidding
process without the Tenders Department and whether the large sums involved required the scrutiny of
the government body.
Other topics on the agenda include one calling for
repairing and renovating grain silos at Beirut Port, and a request from the Economy Ministry to
appoint attaches at the Lebanese diplomatic missions abroad.
The issue of
returning Syrian refugees to their country was thrust into the forefront on June 30 following the
Lebanese Army’s pre-emptive strike against terrorist groups in two Syrian refugee encampments in the
northeastern town of Arsal near the border with Syria. In the operation during which the Army
detained some 360 militant suspects, five suicide bombers blew themselves up, killing one refugee
girl and wounding seven soldiers.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the FPM
leader, has supported direct talks with the Syrian government over the refugees’ return, pointing
out that Lebanon maintains “diplomatic, military, security and financial relations with
Economy Minister Raed Khoury, who represents the FPM in the
Cabinet, said Sunday the presence of Syrian refugees has cost Lebanon $12
“The [Syrian] refugees are straining Lebanon’s infrastructure and
electricity. The cost of Syrian refugees on Lebanon has approximately reached $12 billion,” Khoury
told a local TV station. He said the Lebanese government has already asked the United Nations to
purchase commodities it offers to the refugees from Lebanon. “But so far there is no commitment on
this subject,” he said.
Khoury added that Syrian refugees were competing
with Lebanese workers and doing jobs they have no right to do. “They [refugees] are setting up
illegal institutions that are competing with Lebanese institutions,” he
According to Lebanese government estimates, there are an estimated
1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, straining the country’s battered economy and weak
infrastructure and posing security threats. Dozens of Syrian families returned to their country in
June in a deal brokered between Hezbollah and Syrian rebel
Separately, Bassil warned that Lebanon could not advance while
corruption remained rampant in the public administration.
cannot rise and have a [good] economy as long as there are corruption and corrupt [officials],”
Bassil said in a speech at the opening of the new office for the FPM in the northern town of Chekka.
“These corrupt people can be seen in our society through the monopolies present in all state
administrations. This is the real cost on the economy. The money should be put in the Treasury for
the nation’s revival.”
Bassil lashed out at corruption which, he said,
“controls a part of the media, the judiciary and political power.”
Lebanese man must be liberated in order to live in dignity. This situation can only be attained
with the presence of a state to replace politicians, feudalists or militiamen,” he said.