ROME: Italy’s prime minister on Tuesday pledged his country’s continued support for Lebanon following last month’s devastating explosion in Beirut.
Giuseppe Conte made the pledge during a visit to the capital, where he met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun to discuss coordinating aid deliveries in the wake of the explosion, which killed more than 180 people and injured at least 6,000.
“Italy will contribute in supporting the social and economic development of Lebanon,” Aoun said after the meeting.
Conte said he told Aoun that “for Lebanon, this is the time to roll up sleeves. In order to do this, we must also work to rebuild the trust of citizens and their confidence in democratic institutions.”
Conte added: “Italy has a profound respect for Lebanese sovereignty and will remain at its side, hoping that a government can be formed as soon as possible to deal with reconstruction and start reforms as soon as possible.”
He arrived in Beirut one week after French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Lebanon as part of an international diplomatic push to form a new government and implement much-needed reforms.
Conte also held meetings with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib.
At the Italian Embassy in Beirut, Conte spoke with representatives of NGOs and civil society groups that have been helping the clear-up operations following the explosion.
His visit to Beirut is a testament “to Italy’s closeness to the Lebanese people,” he said, expressing his government’s and country’s “sincere condolences.”
Conte added: “There’s a very ancient tradition of relations and of very intense ties between Italy and Lebanon. This bond has been revived even more in this moment of emergency.”
He said Lebanon is one of the main beneficiary countries of Italy’s development cooperation in sectors ranging from archaeological heritage to wastewater treatment infrastructure.
He added that Lebanon also receives Italian support for vulnerable groups in the population, including Syrian refugees.
“Italy was among the first countries to respond to the emergency. Our support won’t stop. On the contrary, it will get stronger,” he said during a meeting with a representative of the more than 1,200 Italian troops deployed as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which is under Italian command.
Conte said he told Lebanese authorities: “It’s time to write a new page for Lebanon. Italy will give strong support for the stability and socioeconomic growth of this country, which is entitled to a future of peace and prosperity, but also has a duty and responsibility to build a path to reach this goal as soon as possible.”
He visited the Italian field hospital on the Lebanese University’s Hadat campus, then the port, where the Italian naval vessel San Giusto is currently docked.
The ship arrived in Beirut in late August with Italy’s Emergenza Cedri (Cedar Emergency) military mission to provide medical equipment, experts and aid.