Daily Israel Report

Beirut Vows to Protect Syrian Refugees

Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati has vowed to protect some 5,000 Syrian refugees who have fled the Assad regime.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 10/6/2011, 9:56 PM

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Thursday his government would provide safe-haven for Syrian refugees fleeting unrest.

"My approach to these refugees coming to Lebanon is purely humanitarian," Mikati told AFP, estimating their number at 5,000.

"We are assisting these people ... providing them with medical assistance, schooling and shelter."

Mikati's comments were in response to concerns expressed by US ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, who urged Mikati to protect members of Syria's opposition living in the country.

There have been reports of Syrian opposition figures and defecting soldiers being hunted down in Lebanon.

Mikati told AFP that Lebanon would aid all "Syrian citizens" in its territory.

In the wake of several cross-border incidents in which Syrian forces briefly entered Lebanese territory and fired on fleeing refugees and military defectors criticism over the government's low-key reaction has grown sharp.

"I am not being silent about this, we are dealing with the issue normally," he said, noting the permeability of the border.

"I don't want to blow these incidents out of proportion and I don't want to belittle them either."

Mikati also refused to comment on his government's position on developments in Syria, saying his goal was to ensure the crisis did not spill over into Lebanon.

"As far as Syria is concerned, we have always said we are trying to isolate ourselves as much as possible from what is going on," said Mikati.

"I cannot do anything today but protect Lebanon's national unity."

The Hizbullah-dominated Mikati government has found itself walking a tightrope vis-a-vis Damascus due to Hizbullah's unpopular support for the Assad regime.

That support has increasingly raised charges of hypocrisy for a movement long-branded as being a standard-bearer for "popular resistance" -- and who used that brand to reach political prominence.

But the hermaphrodite politico-terror faction is quickly learning the politics of power are not only about guns, but butter as well.

Assad's seven-month crackdown amid unrest in Syria is beginning to choke the Lebanese economy, and as the dominant party in Mikati's government, Hizbullah has found itself taking fire.

Arab tourism to Lebanon - focused on Beirut's jet-setting nightlife and resort vacations - is down by 90%. Those dollars, economists say, account for 22% of Lebanon's GDP. And, that doesn't include trade with Syria.

"Exports from Lebanon to Syria are shrinking and this will affect the Lebanese economy," Mikati said.