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Hezbollah drones expose Lebanon to unnecessary risk, PM and foreign minister say

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s prime minister and foreign minister slammed Hezbollah for sending three drones over an Israeli gas facility last week, saying any interference in US-mediated talks to demarcate the country’s maritime border country with Israel was “unacceptable”.

The comments followed the movement’s launch of unarmed reconnaissance drones on Saturday towards the Karish offshore gas field.

Lebanon announced its “official rejection of the incident, which took place outside the framework of state responsibility and the diplomatic context, especially since the indirect negotiations to delimit the maritime borders are ongoing. and that the efforts of the American mediator Amos Hochstein have reached advanced stages”. ”

Acting Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Abdullah Bouhabib on Monday affirmed Lebanon’s support for Hochstein’s efforts to reach a solution that preserves “Lebanese rights in full and in full clarity, and the demand for speed up the pace of negotiations”.

“Lebanon relies on continued American efforts to support it, preserve its rights to its water wealth, and restore its economic and social strength,” they said. “Lebanon considers that any action outside the framework of State responsibility and the diplomatic context in which the negotiations are taking place is unacceptable and exposes it to unnecessary dangers.

“Therefore, we call on all parties to demonstrate a spirit of high national responsibility and to respect the previous declaration, which states that everyone without exception stands behind the state in the negotiation process.”

The official position included the demand to end Israel’s “continued violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty by sea, land and air”.

Lebanon’s position on the drone incident is advanced, especially since Hezbollah and its allies still constitute a majority in power.

Anti-Hezbollah group Our Lady of the Mountain Gathering, which includes political and intellectual figures, said the movement’s drone launch came hours after it leaked information about Israel’s response to Lebanon’s demarcation proposals. the sea border that had been handed over to Hochstein.

“This confirms that Hezbollah, which had previously claimed to be behind the Lebanese state’s decision to demarcate the southern maritime borders, is in fact behind Iran’s decision to demarcate the borders of its influence in the region, and the Lebanese demarcation file is nothing but a card in its (Hezbollah’s) hands, in the name of Iran and above the interests of the afflicted Lebanese people,” said he added.

Reports said that Hochstein had made progress on the possibility of moving the indirect negotiations again after the Lebanese authorities, represented by President Michel Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Mikati, dropped the request for line 29 and the adoption of line 23.

Lebanon was unable to confirm that Line 29 – which includes the Karish gas field – is Lebanon’s maritime border due to Aoun’s failure to sign a draft amendment to Decree 6433.

It was published in 2011 and specified that Line 23 was the point of negotiation with Israel to demarcate the maritime borders. However, Aoun sees line 29 as the bargaining point.

Line 29 gives Lebanon an additional area estimated at 1,430 km2 while, according to the decree filed at the UN, Lebanon only gets 860 km2 of the disputed area.

Lebanon also faces the issue of Syrian refugees, with Aoun seeking to achieve a breakthrough before his term ends in October.

Minister for Displaced Persons in the interim government, Issam Sharaf El-Din, affirmed Lebanon’s “total rejection of Syrian refugees who do not return to their country after the end of the war and that it has become safe”.

After meeting Aoun, Sharaf El-Din said Lebanon plans to repatriate 15,000 displaced people per month.

He referred to the proposals submitted by Lebanon to the UNHCR Regional Director, Ayaki Ito, who promised to submit the matter to his superiors and obtain a written response.

The minister also discussed a plan to form a tripartite committee with the Syrian state and UNHCR, and a quadripartite committee with Turkey, Iraq and Jordan to achieve repatriation goals.

He claimed to be in touch with the Syrian side and said they were reaching out to cooperate and facilitate repatriation in a dignified and safe manner.

“There was an agreement with the regional director of UNHCR regarding the Syrian state’s request to establish a tripartite committee that includes the Syrian state, the Lebanese state and UNHCR. If this committee is created, we will have taken an important step. We have proposed that the refugees receive material and in-kind assistance in Syria. Unfortunately, this was not accepted.

“We have asked the UNHCR to stop aid to the 15,000 refugees whose turn comes to return to their country each month because giving them aid in Lebanon encourages them to stay in Lebanon.”

Sharaf El-Din said there was a meeting with the Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, who was understanding and cooperative.

“We have agreed on gradual repatriation based on village by village or district by district.”

He said the Turkish side had the idea of ​​establishing a safe zone where the refugees would return, but that was a political issue that Lebanon had nothing to do with.

“However, we have agreed to form a quadripartite committee which includes the Turkish state, which hosts 3,700,000 Syrian refugees, Lebanon, which hosts 1,500,000 refugees, Iraq, which hosts 170,000 refugees, and Jordan, which hosts 670,000 refugees, so that there is a unified demand with United Nations agencies to facilitate the humane repatriation of refugees.

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