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Lebanon: Dissociation Policy Under Scrutiny As Minister Visits Damascus

Lebanon: Dissociation Policy Under Scrutiny As Minister Visits Damascus

Tuesday, 19 February, 2019 - 08:45
Lebanese President Michel Aoun heads the first meeting of the new Saad Hariri's cabinet at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, February 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Beirut - Nazeer Rida, Khalil Fleihan
A visit to Damascus on Monday by Minister of State for the Displaced Saleh Al-Gharib raised questions about Lebanon’s policy of dissociation from regional conflicts and its adherence to the decisions of the Arab League on moves towards Syria.

Ministerial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Gharib “visited Damascus on a personal basis, without any mandate from the Lebanese government,” which has yet to convene following the Parliament’s confidence voting session.

The minister “did not get permission from the government, nor did he inform Prime Minister Saad Hariri about such move; therefore, he did not receive an official mandate” to conduct the visit, according to the sources.

Al-Gharib met in Damascus with Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf. The meeting focused on ways to facilitate the safe return of refugees.

“The Syrian side was very responsive and welcomed the return of all displaced people,” he said, adding that Lebanon was “ready to work with all concerned parties to secure the return of refugees in a way that will ensure the interests of the Lebanese State.”

For his part, Makhlouf pointed out that his government was “working to restore the infrastructure and water networks, and to provide all logistical procedures to secure a dignified return of the displaced.”

In an earlier statement, Gharib’s Information office announced that the minister “will visit Syria… at the official invitation of the Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf to discuss the file of the displaced.”

The minister’s visit sparked an internal political debate. Government sources considered that Makhlouf’s official invitation to Gharib was a violation of the Russian initiative for the return of the Syrian refugees and an attempt to disrupt Hariri’s government after receiving Parliament’s confidence.

Gharib’s behavior is rejected by Hariri and other political forces, according to the sources, who also emphasized that the visit has confirmed statements by the head of the Democratic Gathering, Walid Jumblatt, about Gharib being pro-Syrian.

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