At economic summit opening, Lebanon’s Aoun urges more effort for Syrian refugees

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Lebanese President Michel Aoun urged world powers on Sunday to “make all efforts” for Syrian refugees to return home regardless of any political solution to the war there.

Aoun told an Arab economic summit in Beirut that Lebanon would suggest solutions for safe refugee returns in the meeting’s final statement.

“I propose a reconstruction initiative that includes the establishment of an Arab bank to assist those affected,” Aoun said.

Aoun invited all Arab parties to return to Lebanon to discuss an “Arab bank initiative” that would help with reconstruction efforts.

Aoun also said that Lebanon has “paid a heavy price” due to wars and terrorism.

Since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011, more than 1 million people have fled across the border to Lebanon, where aid agencies say most refugees live in extreme poverty.

The United Nations says conditions are not yet in place for safe returns.

“Lebanon calls on the international community to make all efforts possible and provide suitable conditions for a safe return of displaced Syrians...without linking that with reaching a political solution,” Aoun said.

Lebanese politicians have stepped up calls for refugees to go home now that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has recovered control over most of the country with Russian and Iranian help.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which fights alongside Assad, and its political allies including Aoun have urged rapprochement with Damascus. Other politicians oppose this, insisting the United Nations must oversee any repatriations.

A key point of contention ahead of the summit has been whether to bring Syria back into the Arab League, more than seven years after its membership was suspended.

- With Reuters

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