The French Defense Minister, Florence Parly, arrived Monday evening in Beirut, commencing an official visit to Lebanon from 1 to 3 July 2019.
The French Minister stressed her country’s readiness to help the Lebanese Army during a series of meetings she held with Lebanese officials Tuesday. In a meeting with President Michel Aoun, Florence Parly said France was ready to help the Army in accordance with the Rome II conference, held in March 2018 to strengthen Lebanon’s security institutions.
The Minister also raised the issue of bilateral cooperation between the two country’s armies during separate meetings with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Army Commander Joseph Aoun, according to statements from their respective offices, The Daily Star reported.
Parly also met with UNIFIL Commander Stefano del Col, who briefed her on the peacekeeping mission’s work in implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, and maintaining stability along the Blue Line, according to a tweet from Del Col.
President Aoun stressed Lebanon’s commitment to UNSCR 1701, citing the calm situation along the southern border, a statement from the presidency said. He also raised the issue of Syrian refugee returns, emphasizing Lebanon’s ability to directly coordinate with the Syrian authorities to facilitate the returns. Political parties remain at odds when it comes to talks with Damascus. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah and their allies have called for direct talks with Syria to resolve the crisis. However, the Future Movement and its allies advocate finding a political solution to the conflict before talks are held.
Aoun reiterated his stance on the need to carry out the returns without waiting for a political solution to the years-long conflict in Syria, adding that around 300,000 refugees have so far returned. As of March, General Security officials said that some 170,000 refugees had returned to Syria since December 2017, although others have disputed the figure, saying it is inflated.
During the meeting, Aoun also criticized the international community’s inaction and the “irresponsiveness” of the U.N. to Lebanon’s request to redirect aid to Syria to encourage refugee returns.
Lebanon hosts about 1 million refugees registered with the United Nations refugee agency, but the government puts the total number at more than 1.5 million.
The U.N. has put forward a Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for 2018-19, which calls for $3.2 billion to support more than 13 million people inside Syria, and $4.4 billion to support some 5 million refugees in neighboring countries and approximately 4 million people in the communities hosting the displaced.