BEIRUT: The Russian president’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, has invited Lebanon to participate in the Astana conference as an observer.
“Lebanon has decided to send a delegate to participate in this conference at the end of July and the beginning of … August,” Lavrentiev said after meeting Lebanese officials. “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis.”
Lavrentiev spoke to Lebanese President Michel Aoun about Moscow’s efforts to achieve stability in the Middle East, and said Russia “will do more to address the situation in Syria” in coordination with the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen.
“We need to create the right conditions for the return of (Syrian) refugees,” said Lavrentiev. “It is necessary that refugees return under appropriate conditions and not to destroyed areas.”
Aoun told Lavrentiev: “Lebanon is interested in participating in the Astana conference because it facilitates efforts to find a political solution that will contribute to the return of refugees to their country.”
Aoun said: “Participation in the Astana conference does not negate Lebanon’s right to discuss with the Syrian state arrangements for the return of refugees to their homeland. We consider Russian support for this return an important factor awaiting the participants in the Astana negotiating process to reach a final solution to the Syrian crisis.”
Lavrentiev said after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri: “Eight years since the start of the Syrian crisis, it is time to allow for a political solution to this crisis, and we agreed with the Lebanese side to further coordinate with partners, especially European countries, in order to convince them to keep up with the return of refugees.”
There have been systematic campaigns in Lebanon, including by the Labor Ministry and municipalities, against employing Syrian workers. In addition, dozens of shops operated by Syrians without permits are closed every day.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said two weeks ago: “We will not accept that the Lebanese remain without work while Syrian refugees work illegally.”
He added: “Municipalities should not allow Syrians to work except in the sectors of agriculture, cleaning and construction, and prevent overcrowding.”
Bassil said: “Mayors must revoke licenses and prevent the opening of shops that are not legally entitled to Syrian workers.”
The Interior Ministry “is not entitled to intervene against a mayor who is enforcing the law,” he added. “Syria is a vast country and Lebanon cannot handle this number of refugees.”
After a meeting between Lavrentiev and Bassil, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said the discussion focused on “the need to form a tripartite Russian-Lebanese-Syrian committee that facilitates the return of the refugees.”