Lebanon will ask the forthcoming Arab summit for support in its open battle against terrorism as well as financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Monday.
In the absence of a president, Salam will head Lebanon’s delegation to the annual Arab League summit, scheduled to be held on March 28-29 in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, with national security topping the agenda.
Arab League officials have said the threat from the ISIS group, the war in Syria, and the crises in Libya and Yemen are among the issues expected to be discussed during the summit.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Salam said terrorism, which is threatening the security of Arab countries, is among key issues to be addressed by Lebanon during the summit.
“Among the important issues to be raised by Lebanon and which will have strong presence in this summit is the issue of terrorism which is sweeping across our countries and threatening our sovereignty and security,” the premier said.
“Lebanon will explain its efforts in the battle against terrorism. We can say that we have made successes [in this battle], thanks to our Army, security forces and national unity,” he added.
Salam’s remarks come amid mounting fears that ISIS and Nusra Front militants, entrenched in caves in the rugged mountainous outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal, are gearing up for a major offensive deep into Lebanese territory along the eastern border with Syria when the snow melts.
The Army has frequently clashed with ISIS and Nusra Front gunmen in areas near the border with Syria.
It has also carried out pre-emptive strikes against terror cells and thwarted several suicide bomb attacks in the past few months.
Salam said that Lebanon would also request from the Arab summit financial aid to help it cope with the heavy economic and social burdens caused by the presence on Lebanese territory of more than one million Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their country.
“We will also raise the tragedy of Syrian refugees and the enormous burden it represents for Lebanon,” the premier said. “We will reaffirm what we had previously said before our Arab brothers and international donors, that the aid we have received so far still falls short of meeting the huge needs caused by the refugee influx.”“In this respect, we will certainly ask our Arab brothers to provide assistance to Lebanon in line with a government plan exceeding $2 billion,” Salam said. He added that Lebanon would present the plan to a donor conference scheduled to be held in Kuwait on March 31.
Lebanon hosts 1.1 million Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR, though government estimates put that number higher, putting a severe strain on Lebanon’s feeble infrastructure and its social services.
Salam underlined the need for Arab solidarity in the face of popular upheavals and turmoil threatening the security and stability of some Arab countries. “Lebanon will stress at the summit the significance of Arab solidarity in this difficult stage which is witnessing tragedies and disasters in several Arab countries,” he said.
He added that the 4-year-old war in Syria has so far resulted in the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, wreaked massive destruction on the country’s national wealth and resources and threatened its territorial integrity.
“We hope this summit will help in strengthening Arab ranks and come out with resolutions that will help in facing the current challenges,” Salam said. “We will support any decision taken by the Arab League in this respect.”
Salam welcomed any Arab or foreign efforts to help Lebanon end the political deadlock that has left the country without a president for 10 months, but stressed that the solution to the crisis should be reached by the Lebanese.
“With regard to the political crisis in Lebanon, I say that any Arab or non-Arab effort that can help us overcome our problems, at the forefront of which is the vacancy in the presidency, is welcomed,” Salam said. “But we must know that the solution is in our hands, we the Lebanese. That’s why we will not make any request of help of this kind from our Arab brothers at this summit.”