BEIRUT — Irregular migration from Syria to Lebanon has "increased considerably in recent months," Lebanese Army commander Joseph Aoun said Thursday, amid a wave of renewed measures and rhetoric targeting Syrian refugees this week.
"We have already issued warnings on several occasions, calling on everyone to assume their responsibilities," he added. According to Aoun, these warnings were to no avail.
"The army is currently facing this challenge alone, despite all the geographical complexities and the lack of resources and manpower," he stated.
For Aoun, the migration crisis has been a challenge for the army. "We have to deal with infiltration by land, but also with illegal departures by sea," he remarked.
This week, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called for Lebanon to open its maritime border to Syrians wishing to reach Western countries. "Europe will come to negotiate, submitted," he promised.
Aoun's statements come just days after implicit attacks by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Leader Gebran Bassil, who accused him of not wanting to close the porous border between Lebanon and Syria.
During a visit to Bekaa a few days ago, Bassil claimed that "certain members and commanders" of the army "profit from smuggling networks." According to him, "these people have only one concern: The presidential election and foreign approval."
Aoun is seen as a serious candidate for presidency. He previously responded to Bassil's comments on the subject of Syrian migrants and refugees. Last September, he said that "those who doubt the army's role in protecting the borders ... are not participating in the solution to the problem." This may be a dig at FPM, which boycotts cabinet meetings.