Aoun: International Community Taking Refugees as Hostages

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Aoun: International Community Taking Refugees as Hostages

President Michel Aoun on Thursday reiterated Lebanon's determination to solve the refugee crisis which has been burderning the country for several years, stressing commitment to what is best for Lebanon.

"Although we take the international community’s conditions regarding the refugees' return into consideration, we will act in accordance with Lebanon's welfare and higher interest," Aoun told Russian media ahead of his visit to Moscow next week.

“The international community is not helping Lebanon, while the country is helping the Syrian refugees return to their homeland."

Aoun criticized the international community for linking the return of refugees to the prospects of a political solution in Syria, saying that it is taking refugees as hostages to be used as a bargain chip in any deal on Syria.

Turning to ties with Syria and the current inter-Lebanese rift regarding this issue, Aoun noted that the relation with Syria has already been normalized given that formal diplomatic ties have been established several years ago.

Asked whether he would visit Syria, Aoun said: “Lebanon is a neighboring country to Syria and shares with it several common issues which we both seek to solve. If that requires me to visit Damascus, then I will do so. If not, then ambassadors, ministers and the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council would handle this."

Aoun outlined the vital role that Lebanon can play in the reconstruction of Syria, noting that Lebanese ports, in Beirut and Tripoli, can serve as the main hubs for moving cargos to Syria.

The Lebanese president said that the sanctions imposed on Hezbollah are affecting all of Lebanon, notably banks, attributing the financial and economic hardships that the country is experiencing to the international pressure on the group.

“Lebanon is subject to the siege that has been imposed on others, particularly on Iran. As a result, it is going through a big crisis,” he said.

“Each Lebanese bank has uncertainty about dealing with a depositor, fearing that he has links with Hezbollah. This mutual fear does not build an economy and sound trade relations,” he explained.

Asked if Lebanon is being subject to pressure over its rapprochment with Russia, Aoun stressed that historic ties have long bound the two countries together, assuring Lebanon's neutrality towards global tensions.

“Lebanon is a neutral country that does not seek wars, but friendships. We don't get affected by disputes taking place beyond our border, as we deal with everything based on our interests," he said.

"No one can prevent us from having connections with any country in the world. It is true that we do not interfere with other countries’ problems, but we make sure to safeguard our identity,” Aoun concluded.