British Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged Thursday to boost support to the Lebanese Army and increase funding for humanitarian relief for the nearly 300,000 Syrian refugees in the country.
In his first visit to Lebanon since being appointed in 2010, Hague announced that the U.K. would allocate Lebanon $17 million of aid previously pledged to support the regional response to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, bringing the country’s total contribution to Lebanon’s refugee response effort to $30 million.
The aid will be distributed largely to the United Nations, but $4 million will go to local civil society groups.
During a visit to a World Food Program distribution center in Burj Hammoud, Hague urged countries to deliver on the pledges they made at the Kuwait Donors Conference in January.
The money would provide clean water, food, blankets and lifesaving medical equipment to meet the most urgent needs of the estimated 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
“The situation in Syria remains of enormous concern,” Hague said. “The appalling humanitarian crisis, the loss of life, and the threat to regional security cannot be ignored or underestimated.”
The mid-afternoon visit to Burj Hammoud was Hague’s third stop on a diplomatic goodwill tour of Lebanon in which he voiced support for the country’s security, stability and future economic prosperity.
During his two-day visit, Hague conducted a series of meetings with top leaders and had a discussion with Gen. Jean Kahwagi, the commander of the Lebanese Army.
Hague said he had a “warm and productive meeting with President (Michel) Sleiman” at Baabda Palace, where they discussed bilateral relations.
Hague also delivered a letter on behalf of British Prime Minister David Cameron, “setting out an enhanced offer of support for Lebanon’s stability.”
In recognition of the “critical role” the Lebanese Army plays in maintaining stability, Hague said the U.K. would train over 2,000 troops in the next year “in addition to the equipment and training support it already provides to the Army and the Internal Security Forces.
To further Britain’s support in “the search for justice within Lebanon,” he also pledged an additional $1.58 million to fund the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2013.
Hague also informed Sleiman that it was imperative for Lebanese “political forces to come together in a spirit of dialogue and consensus to agree on a process that respects the constitutional timetable for this year’s elections.”
The election timetable was thrown into doubt earlier this week when the controversial Orthodox draft law was endorsed by parliamentary committees. Hague also met with Speaker Nabih Berri and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. “I was delighted to be able to visit Lebanon and reiterate our staunch support for Lebanon’s stability against an uncertain regional backdrop,” he said after his talks with Siniora.
“In these difficult times it is especially important that Lebanon remains united in its diversity. Today I have assured Lebanon’s leaders that the U.K. will play its part, through our political efforts, through our enhanced support to the army, and through our solidarity with the Lebanese people.”
Hague kicked off his trip with an evening visit to Prime Minister Najib Mikati Wednesday in which he “welcomed Lebanon’s commitment to cooperate” with the Bulgarian investigation into the Burgas bus bombing, discussed the importance of inclusive dialogue in the run-up to Lebanese elections, and “the urgent need to make progress in the Middle East peace process.”
By Lysandra Ohrstrom