U.N., EU sound alarm on Syria refugee crisis in Lebanon

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The EU’s top foreign policy chief and the U.N.’s high commissioner for refugees warned on Tuesday about the needs created by the influx of more than 530,000 Syrian refugees into Lebanon.

Arriving in Beirut, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres “sounded the alarm about the massive support needed for refugees and for the countries and communities hosting them,” a statement said.

Guterres also said the number of Syrians fleeing their country’s 27-month conflict to Lebanon is projected to swell to “over one million by the end of 2013.”

He reiterated concerns that the threat of spillover of Syria’s war into the region “is now becoming a harsh reality.”

“Lebanon and other neighboring countries need massive support so that they can continue to receive and help so many refugees and preserve stability,” Guterres said.

Last week Lebanon, the U.N. and humanitarian groups launched a $1.7 billion appeal to help fund the cost of receiving refugees.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also discussed the plight of Syrian refugees on a trip to Beirut, while urging “a political solution to the conflict in Syria.”

She also warned that “de-escalating tensions” in Lebanon is a “priority,” a statement said.

The conflict in neighboring Syria has raised tensions in Lebanon, with the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah backing the Syrian regime while Lebanon’s Sunni-led opposition backs the uprising.

“Any country would have struggled with an increase of 25 percent of its population and commended all efforts to provide protection and assistance,” Ashton said.

She “reiterated (the EU’s) commitment to Lebanon’s security and prosperity,” and support for “Lebanon’s official policy of disassociation from the fighting in Syria.”

Though Lebanon is officially neutral in Syria’s raging war, the country has been increasingly embroiled in the conflict.

According to U.N. figures, the small Mediterranean country has also received the region’s biggest influx of refugees fleeing Syria’s war.

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