EU Ambassador says $1 bn donation to benefit Lebanese 'not only Syrians'


Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon Sandra De Waele has called for a diplomatic settlement in southern Lebanon, as "Lebanon cannot afford to be dragged further" into war.

On the occasion of Europe Day Thursday, De Waele said that over the past few months, the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon has followed closely the dramatic circumstances unfolding in Gaza and southern Lebanon, and has used every diplomatic channel to call for an end to the hostilities and to the human suffering.

"Lebanon has been at the frontline of this war since October 8," De Waele said, as she called for the full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 by all parties.

"We must continue to work towards a de-escalation of the conflict and a diplomatic settlement in the South," De Waele said.

"The war in the South has only worsened an already fragile situation in Lebanon. Little progress has been made to put Lebanon on the path of economic recovery. The decision making process remains blocked, in the absence of a President of the Republic and a fully-functioning government," she added.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen had visited Beirut last week to announce a package of 1 billion Euros to support Lebanon. "This new package is a political commitment that the European Union will provide predictable financial support to Lebanon until 2027," De Waele said.

"It will allow us to continue funding key sectors such as social protection, health, water and education, and to support the government in providing basic services to the most vulnerable people in the country.

"This not only includes Syrian refugees, but also many - and a growing number of - Lebanese who benefit from EU funded social assistance programs, affordable primary healthcare services, access to clean water or newly rehabilitated public schools. In fact, already now, the large majority of this support benefits directly Lebanese citizens.

"With this package, we will continue supporting these key sectors, in close coordination with the Lebanese government," she added.

De Waele said that the EU is not tone deaf. "We clearly hear and understand the concerns that the Lebanese are raising regarding the presence of such a large number of Syrians. We acknowledge the heavy burden this entails.

"The European Union considers that the future of Syrians lies in Syria. The return of Syrians to Syria - in safety - remains the ultimate goal for all of us, and we hope to work together, in a constructive way, to make this a reality.

That is why we will invest more heavily in legal pathways for refugees, so they can find job opportunities in Europe.

"That is why we will continue resettling refugees from Lebanon to Europe, to help alleviate the burden," she vowed.

De Waele added that in the coming months, the EU Delegation will also be working with UNHCR to develop a more structured approach to voluntary returns to Syria.

"In this context, we will be supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Security and Internal Security Forces by providing them with the needed equipment and expertise to better manage Lebanon’s land and sea borders.

"We look forward to working with our Lebanese partners to find a solution to this issue. We understand how crucial it is. We all, however, need to be realistic that this process will take time. And it will require the cooperation of more parties, other than Lebanon and Europe," she added.

De Waele went on to say that Europe’s relations with Lebanon did not begin in 2011 with the Syrian crisis, and will not end with it. "They did not start either with the opening of the first EU Delegation to Lebanon in 1979."

"What ties us is much stronger. It is a shared history and culture. It is the scents and flavours of the Mediterranean, the familiar landscapes, the diversity in languages and religions, and the sense of freedom that we all experience here," she said, concluding that the EU is "as determined as you are, to make sure this remains."

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