|Date: Sep 26, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Aoun: Idleness on refugee crisis leaves Assad deal as sole option|
|Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star|
UNITED NATIONS: Lebanon will be forced to solve the refugee crisis with the Syrian government if “some active states” remain idle, President Michel Aoun warned Wednesday.
“We have many question marks about the positions of some active states and concerned international organizations, trying to hinder this return,” Aoun said during his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
He accused these states of sowing fear among the refugees, “which clearly indicates the political postulates through which the displacement crisis is being tackled.”
Aoun said that the refugees have become hostages in an international game “to be swapped when settlements and solutions are imposed.”
As a result of this, Aoun warned that this may drive Lebanon to “foster the undertaken return process, in agreement with the Syrian state, when needed, to solve this dilemma which threatens our entity and existence, because the experience of displaced peoples around the world, and waiting for political solutions are not at all reassuring.”
Aoun criticized the international community, saying that it can’t content itself with providing “minimum assistance to the displaced and refugees in their regions of displacement only, while excluding programs for their safe and dignified return.”
The Lebanese president also criticized the failure to establish a Palestinian state causing refugees to live in camps in Lebanon, “nurturing the dream of return, and awaiting the political solution” 71 years later.
Aoun voiced his rejection for any attempt to undermine UNRWA or modify its mandate. “I call on the countries that contribute to its budget to double their contributions to enable it to recover its vital role.”
The president took the opportunity to renew his condemnation of Israeli violations of U.N. Resolution 1701 saying that they “never ceased, and neither have the exaggerated aggressions against the Lebanese sovereignty, by land, sea and air.”
Aoun reiterated that Lebanon is a “peace-loving country,” but that this does not “eliminate our natural nontransferable right to legitimately defend ourselves, our land and our people, with all available means.”Resolution 1701 calls for the full withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese territories and Wednesday, Aoun reminded the international community of Lebanon’s sovereign rights over the occupied Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba Hills and the Northern Ghajar.
Lebanon, Aoun said, will spare no opportunity to consecrate its international land borders according to the U.N. and to demarcate its maritime borders “under U.N. supervision “while welcoming any help from any country in this respect.”
Exploratory oil and gas drilling will begin in Lebanon’s territorial waters by the end of the year, Aoun said.
On that note, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil met with his Cypriot counterpart and the two discussed cooperation in the oil and gas field, as well as an upcoming tripartite meeting between Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon regarding maritime borders.
Lebanon’s president briefly met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as he was leaving the hall. A source close to Aoun said the minute only lasted for a few minutes and they “discussed bilateral ties and the latest regional developments.” Both country’s foreign ministers were present too, during the standup meeting.
Before his speech, Aoun met with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who told him that the U.N. supports “Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and the safety of its territories.” “[The U.N.] will do everything it can in order to help achieve these goals,” Guterres told Aoun.
Domestically, Cabinet met Wednesday to continue discussions on the 2020 draft state budget. It was agreed that ministers will meet again at 4 p.m. Thursday to resume their talks, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced after the session.
In a session chaired by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the ministers discussed several ministries’ allocations in the draft.
Among the decisions made, ministers requested that Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, in coordination with Energy Minister Nada Boustani and Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair, come up with a plan to save on electricity and telecoms costs in state institutions. Cabinet has been holding a series of meetings designed to examine and approve the 2020 budget before sending it to Parliament next month for final ratification.
Last week, Hariri said that ministers would finalize the talks by the October deadline stipulated by the Constitution. According to the Constitution, Cabinet should refer the budget to Parliament at the start of the latter’s fall session, which begins in mid-October. - Additional reporting by Sahar Houri