ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will visit Lebanon “in the coming days” as a “tangible sign of the brotherhood between the two countries,” Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said on Monday after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Beirut.
Guerini is the first member of Italy’s government to visit Lebanon since the devastating explosion of ammonium nitrate in a port warehouse on Aug. 4, when more than 180 people were killed and at least 6,000 were injured.
He expressed the Italian government’s condolences to the families of the victims of the explosion, and wished the wounded a speedy recovery. Guerini said Italy had offered “tangible aid” to the Lebanese people immediately after the blast.
He assured “the support of the Italian government for any Lebanese need or request to help with the reconstruction effort.”
He said: “Our countries are so close. They always have been close. In the past 38 years, Italian military forces have never ceased to be present in Lebanon, putting their professionalism at the service of stability and of strengthening security in the country, constantly guaranteeing the necessary assistance to the Lebanese authorities.”
He added: “Now we are stepping up our engagement with the Emergenza Cedri (Cedar Emergency) mission, a further and concrete sign of the strong and fraternal closeness of Italy to the Lebanese population which is living such a difficult time, also because of the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.”
Guerini said the Italian Navy ship San Giusto had just reached Beirut carrying materials to build a field hospital that will be equipped to treat COVID-19 cases. It will be built on the campus of Al-Hadath University.
According to a press statement issued by the presidency, Aoun told Guerini about the “enormous difficulties” Lebanon is facing.
Aoun asked Italy to help Lebanon also “by facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their country.”
He thanked Italy for its participation in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, and for the aid provided through the humanitarian operation Emergenza Cedri.
Italian Navy ship Etna reached Beirut on Monday, carrying more humanitarian aid offered by the navy and the Francesca Rava NPH Italia Onlus Foundation.
In Beirut, Guerini also met Defense Minister Zeina Akar and Gen. Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Guerini then visited San Giusto and the site of the Italian field hospital in Al-Hadath University.