BRUSSELS (EJP) --- EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on the Lebanese government to face up to its “clear legal obligations” to continue to offer refuge to civilians escaping the ongoing conflict in neighbouring Syria, following reports of Syrian nationals being deported.
Warning that no genuine refugees should be “returned or extradited to a State where they could be subjected to torture”, Ashton insisted Saturday that “Lebanon must ensure that no deportation takes place outside the framework of its international obligations”.
In July, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Melissa Fleming reported up to 30,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into neighbouring Lebanon in 48 hours, following an intense escalation of violence between the Syrian regime and opposition forces. Warning of the violence awaiting refugees in their homeland, Fleming cautioned: “They are receiving calls threatening them, accusing them if siding with the government.”
The EU considers Lebanon as geographically and strategically well-placed to help in its continued efforts to displace authoritarian Syrian President Bashar al Assad and bring about a democratic political transition in the besieged country.
Last month, Ashton slammed reports of recent shelling of the Lebanese border by Syrian artillery, which resulted in several deaths and injuries, calling on Assad “to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its neighbours”, adding that his regime’s actions had had “serious repercussions in neighbouring countries, including Lebanon”.
Lebanese group Hezbollah has increasingly expressed its allegiance with Assad’s Syrian regime, seemingly undermining the EU’s efforts to isolate the government following 17 months of violence against civilians in the country, with controversial leader Hassan Nasrallah insisting “the Syrian leaderships was risking its interests and existence in order for the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine to be strong”.
In a worrying indicator of the potential downward turn in Middle Eastern relations, the Hezbollah leader heralded the Syrian administration for its “resistance” work, adding “my war is with the Israelis, my struggle is with the Israelis”.
The EU has openly declared its support for Lebanese authorities, denying Israeli appeals represented on a recent visit to Brussels by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for Europe to officially recognise Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, as Israel continues to insist the group was responsible for the recent terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Insisting there was “no consensus” among EU nation states to outlaw the organisation, Commissioner Kozakou responded to Lieberman’s appeals by insisting Hezbollah “plays a specific role with regard to the status quo in Lebanon”.
Israel has also expressed growing concern that Syrian authorities may e arming dissident Lebanese groups with chemical and biological weaponry which may pose a serious threat to the Jewish State.
Meanwhile, Saudi-owned London-based Arabic media outlet A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Friday that Syria has deployed anti-aircraft missiles along its border with Lebanon.
A foreign affairs council meeting in July commended the Lebanese authorities “for their efforts to support those fleeing the violence in Syria”. Calling on the government “to continue meeting its responsibilities in this respect”, the delegation of EU foreign leaders further reaffirmed “its readiness to continue providing assistance to Lebanon in coping with this burden”.
The European Commission recently committed a substantial financial aid package to Lebanon, to the value of €30 million, which it claimed was aimed at “improving living conditions and reducing social inequalities for people living on Lebanese territory”. Lebanon is also home to a significant number of Palestinian refugees.
Bilateral cooperation between the EU and Lebanon is planned to amount to €150 million in aid for the 2011-2013 period. Pledging increased financial commitment to Lebanon, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fule said: “Lebanon has proven an important partner of the European Union over the last few years and it is crucial for us to maintain this good relationship, while supporting efforts to improve living conditions for people living in Lebanon”.
Acknowledging the strain the influx of Syrian refugees placed on Lebanese resources, Ashton committed to “assisting the Lebanese authorities in addressing the constraints and challenges this situation places on the country, in terms of rule of law, protection, safety and security, social and economic development”.