Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s announcement that he was prepared to travel to Syria to discuss the return of Syrian refugees back to their homeland was met with condemnation in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that if head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Bassil, wanted to discuss the return of refugees, “then that is his business.”
“We will be the first to welcome the return, should it happen,” he added.
Bassil had declared on Sunday that he “will visit Syria to return the Syrian people to their country just as their army” returned from Lebanon.
Hariri added: “Just as a reminder, the blood of Rafik Hariri returned to the Syrian army to Syria.”
The Syrian regime must not used Bassil’s potential visit as a pretext to return to Lebanon “because we do not trust the intentions of the regime when it talks about returning refugees,” he continued.
The country can do without more futile debates and officials are better off discussing how to address the economic crisis, said Hariri.
The Syrian military had entered Lebanon in 1976 during the country’s 1975-90 civil war. It withdrew in 2005 in wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the current premier’s father. The murder was widely blamed in Lebanon on the Syrian regime, which had expanded its military presence to controlling security and political life in Lebanon.
Defense Minister and FPM member Elias Bou Saab defended Bassil’s remarks, saying that if a minister wanted to visit Syria, no one can stop him, noting the diplomatic ties between Beirut and Damascus still stand.
Labor Minister and Lebanese Forces member Kamil Abou Suleiman revealed that Bassil’s comments will be discussed at cabinet. Education Minister Akram Shehayyeb said that the government holds the final say in whether a minister would head to Syria or not.
If he does decide to go, then it will be deemed a personal visit, he added.
Head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), former MP Walid Jumblat tweeted: “Remember that they entered [Lebanon] on the blood of Kamal Jumblat and left on the blood of Rafik Hariri.”
“You are forging history and subverting your sacrifices and ours,” he said in an indirect reference to Bassil. “You are looting the country and destroying the Taef Accord. You want to bring security to yield out of spite. You are adopting Baath-like approaches, but remember: Foreigners brought you here and the people will throw you out.”