On Monday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said that his country was interested in making the Russian “initiative” to return refugees to Syrian territory a success, adding that “Lebanon has put forward several initiatives which have encouraged Syrian refugees to return.”
This came during talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Bassil said that “what Russia is now doing confirms its historic role in the region, and Russia has confirmed that these principles are not just talk, but action.”
Bassil defended his coordination with the Assad regime, saying: “Lebanon in interested in coordinating with the Syrian state regarding the return of Syrian refugees to their homes. The conditions have become appropriate for their return.”
He also addressed the issue of the Lebanese role in Syria’s reconstruction: “Lebanon should be a platform for Syria’s reconstruction and the backyard for this process in coordination with Russia.”
The schedule for Bassil’s visit, which began on Tuesday, appears intense, reflecting the importance which Moscow has given this visit, according to a statement from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry’s media office.
The statement said that the issue of Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to Syria will occupy the main space of the discussions, in light of the Russian initiative to secure their return.
The Lebanese Foreign Minister said that “Lebanon does not see a reason for the Syrian refugees to remain on its territory.” He added that: “There are areas in Syria enjoying stability and peace,” in a reference to areas under the control of the Assad regime and its allies.
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia will work with Lebanon to ease the return of Syrian refugees to their country.
Lavrov added that Lebanon should not become a hostage of the Syrian refugee crisis, and that Russia would oppose foreign intervention in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
The Russian Foreign Minister said that the United States had refused to participate in Syria’s reconstruction, and aims to impeded the return of refugees to their country. He added that Washington was only concerned with reconstructing parts of Syria where the opposition was active.
Five batches of Syrian refugees in Lebanon have returned to their country within the “voluntary return” system, in coordination between Lebanese authorities and the Assad regime. There are no official figures regarding their numbers.
Lebanon estimates the number of Syrian refugees on its territory to be about a million and a half, while the United Nations says it is less than a million.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.