Russia invites Lebanon to Astana summit

Russian envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev addresses media persons in Beirut on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2019

Russia invites Lebanon to Astana summit

  • “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis”

BEIRUT: The Russian president’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, has invited Lebanon to participate in the Astana conference as an observer. 

“Lebanon has decided to send a delegate to participate in this conference at the end of July and the beginning of … August,” Lavrentiev said after meeting Lebanese officials. “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrentiev spoke to Lebanese President Michel Aoun about Moscow’s efforts to achieve stability in the Middle East, and said Russia “will do more to address the situation in Syria” in coordination with the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen.

“We need to create the right conditions for the return of (Syrian) refugees,” said Lavrentiev. “It is necessary that refugees return under appropriate conditions and not to destroyed areas.”

Aoun told Lavrentiev: “Lebanon is interested in participating in the Astana conference because it facilitates efforts to find a political solution that will contribute to the return of refugees to their country.” 

Aoun said: “Participation in the Astana conference does not negate Lebanon’s right to discuss with the Syrian state arrangements for the return of refugees to their homeland. We consider Russian support for this return an important factor awaiting the participants in the Astana negotiating process to reach a final solution to the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrentiev said after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri: “Eight years since the start of the Syrian crisis, it is time to allow for a political solution to this crisis, and we agreed with the Lebanese side to further coordinate with partners, especially European countries, in order to convince them to keep up with the return of refugees.”

There have been systematic campaigns in Lebanon, including by the Labor Ministry and municipalities, against employing Syrian workers. In addition, dozens of shops operated by Syrians without permits are closed every day. 

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said two weeks ago: “We will not accept that the Lebanese remain without work while Syrian refugees work illegally.”

He added: “Municipalities should not allow Syrians to work except in the sectors of agriculture, cleaning and construction, and prevent overcrowding.”

Bassil said: “Mayors must revoke licenses and prevent the opening of shops that are not legally entitled to Syrian workers.”

The Interior Ministry “is not entitled to intervene against a mayor who is enforcing the law,” he added. “Syria is a vast country and Lebanon cannot handle this number of refugees.”

After a meeting between Lavrentiev and Bassil, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said the discussion focused on “the need to form a tripartite Russian-Lebanese-Syrian committee that facilitates the return of the refugees.”

‘Political paralysis’: Lebanese patriarch points at Shiite leaders for cabinet delay

Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

‘Political paralysis’: Lebanese patriarch points at Shiite leaders for cabinet delay

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric took a swipe at leaders of the Shiite Muslim community on Sunday for making demands he said were blocking the formation of a new government and causing political paralysis in a nation in deep crisis.
Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, did not mention Shiites directly but asked how one sect can demand “a certain ministry.” Shiite politicians have said they must name the finance minister.
Sunday’s sermon adds to tensions in a nation facing its worst crisis since a civil war ended in 1990 and where power is traditionally shared out between Muslims and Christians.
France has been pushing Lebanon to form a new cabinet fast. But a deadline of Sept. 15 that politicians told Paris they would meet has been missed amid a row over appointments, notably the finance minister, a post Shiites controlled for years.
Shiite politicians say they must choose some posts because rivals are trying to use “foreign leverage” to push them aside.
“In what capacity does a sect demand a certain ministry as if it is its own, and obstruct the formation of the government, until it achieves its goals, and so causes political paralysis?” the patriarch of Lebanon’s biggest Christian community said.
He said the Taif agreement, a pact that ended the 1975-1990 civil war, did not hand specific ministries to specific sects.
Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim, wants to appoint specialists and shake up the leadership of ministries.
The main Shiite groups — the Amal Movement and the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah — want to select the figures to fill several posts, including the finance minister, a vital position as Lebanon navigates through its economic crisis.
A French roadmap for Lebanon includes the swift resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund, a first step to helping deal with a mountain of debt and fix Lebanon’s broken banking sector. But it first needs a government.