Lebanon opposes military intervention in Syria

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President Michel Sleiman said Thursday Lebanon opposed foreign military intervention in strife-torn Syria, as a new bout of sectarian violence in the north raised fears of the conflict spilling over the border.

Sleiman also said Lebanon was trying to insulate itself from any possible negative fallout from the bloody conflict in Syria.

He spoke at a joint news conference in Athens after holding talks with his Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias. The talks centered on regional and international developments as well as on expanding bilateral economic cooperation and trade exchange by implementing agreements signed by the two countries.

“I stressed to President Papoulias our concern with sparing Lebanon any possible negative repercussions of the current crisis in Syria,” he said, according to a statement from Baabda Palace.

Referring to the 20-month-old conflict in Syria that has killed more than 40,000 people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March last year, the Lebanese president said: “I hope the Syrians will be able to engage in dialogue and agree acceptable political solutions, without any escalation in violence, while remaining distant from the threat of fragmentation, extremism or foreign military intervention.

“The U.N. Charter and decisions by international organizations must be respected,” Sleiman added.

The president said he briefed Papoulias on his efforts to launch dialogue among the rival political leaders; neutralize Lebanon from regional conflicts; and preserve the pillars of democracy and stability.

Sleiman’s remarks came as fighting intensified Thursday between Assad’s Lebanese opponents and supporters in the northern city of Tripoli as sniper shots left people ducking for cover.

Security sources told The Daily Star that the death toll rose to nine from the fighting in the past three days between gunmen in the neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, whose residents largely support Assad, and rivals in Bab al-Tabbaneh, where residents back the Syrian revolution against the regime.

Lebanon is deeply split over the conflict in Syria. The opposition March 14 coalition supports the anti-Assad uprising, while the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance backs the regime.

Sleiman said that in light of the “historic changes and challenges in the Arab world,” he and Papoulias underlined the need for enabling peoples in the region to achieve their demands for reforms, freedom and democracy by peaceful means.

For his part, the Greek president stressed his country’s firm support for Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty on its territory and “the role played by President Sleiman to protect the country from the consequences of the situation in Syria.”

“We spoke in detail about the Middle East problem which is considered as the most important problem that must be solved for the sake of peace, stability and security in this region,” Papoulias said.

Sleiman said he and Papoulias praised last week’s vote by the U.N. General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state at the world body as “a step in the right direction” toward implementing U.N. resolutions pertaining to the Middle East and Palestine issues.

“On this occasion, I affirmed to President Papoulias Lebanon’s rejection of any form of resettlement of Palestinian refugees on its territory based on the provisions of the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative,” Sleiman said.

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