BEIRUT — The caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdallah Bou Habib, declared Friday after a meeting in Meerab with the leader of the Lebanese Forces (FL), Samir Geagea, that "the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon cannot be resolved in Syria, but requires the cooperation of the international community, mainly composed of Europeans, who should work with us to find a radical solution."
As part of his tour of consultations with various political parties on international issues relating to Lebanon, Bou Habib also commented on his decision not to chair a Lebanese ministerial delegation due to visit Syria. "I will go to Syria as Foreign Minister," he said. "The decision to form the ministerial delegation rests with Prime Minister Najib Mikati. It was taken in my absence, as I do not attend government meetings," he said.
Last weekend, Bou Habib announced that he would no longer chair the ministerial committee responsible for conducting talks with the Damascus government on the Syrian refugee issue. Many observers believe the minister did this to avoid clashing with Western diplomats, whose views oppose his on the subject of Syrian repatriation under the current circumstances.
Lebanon claims to host around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, 815,000 of whom are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
On Wednesday, Bou Habib called on the European Union to enter into discussions with Lebanon about the return of Syrian refugees, following a new resolution passed by the European Parliament. While the EU resolution does not explicitly call for Syrian refugees to stay Lebanon, it considers "the conditions required for the voluntary and dignified return of refugees are not present." This position is in line with what the international community has been saying for years, but goes against the views of many Lebanese officials who are calling for the repatriation of Syrian refugees.