Lebanon uses Arab summit to call for Syrian refugees’ return

Lebanon uses Arab summit to call for Syrian refugees’ return

The Lebanese president called for the establishment of an "Arab reconstruction and development bank" that will assist "all affected Arab states and people" in overcoming their struggles and achieving long-term economic growth. "Their numbers are equivalent to almost half of Lebanon's population", he said, noting that Lebanon is a small country, with unsuitable infrastructure, limited resources and an overcrowded job market.

A big point of contention, in a region plagued by bellicose politics, is whether to welcome Syria back into the Arab fold now that President Bashar Al-Assad has restored control over most of his country.

"Syria is the most notable absentee at our conference", Bassil said on Friday, adding that Arab states shouldn't wait for "a permission" for Syria's return.

Other countries sent lower-level delegations.

Aoun said he had hoped the summit would be a chance "to bring together all the Arabs and that there would be no empty seats. but the obstacles were unfortunately stronger".

Libya also made a decision to boycott the summit after members of the Lebanese Amal party tore down and burned its flag near the summit venue last week.

Sheikh Tamim and the president of Mauritania were the only heads of state from the 22-member Arab League who came to Beirut to attend Sunday's summit. The last snag was differences over the issue of refugee returns.

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"We call on the worldwide community to take its responsibility to curb the misery", Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said, reading a statement which the summit agreed.

The summit of the League of Arab States, focused on economic and social development, began in Beirut on Thursday with a session of a committee of specialized delegations.

Rifts among Arab states over Syria and its ally Iran, on top of divisions inside Lebanon, have overshadowed the summit being held this weekend, with several leaders pulling out.

Mr Aoun on Sunday also spoke about the need to repatriate Syrian refugees.

Despite some returns to slivers of Syria, the United Nations says the country as a whole remains still unsafe for civilians to return to. He also said that they should offer incentives for refugees to return and contribute to their country's reconstruction.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani announced a few days before the Arab economic summit in Beirut that Doha sees no need to re-open its embassy in Damascus, as there are no "encouraging" signs to normalize ties with the Syrian government.

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