06/07/2023, 15.41
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Aoun meets Assad to discuss refugees and Lebanese president

by Fady Noun

The former head of state is visiting Damascus for a meeting with the Syrian president to explain reasons for supporting Azour and opposition to the candidacy of Frangié, close to Damascus. The topic of Syrian refugees and the attack on Europe that "rejects" their "return" and pushes for "integration" in Lebanon (and Turkey).

Beirut (AsiaNews/OLJ) - Former Lebanese head of state Michel Aoun visited Damascus yesterday for the first time since 2009 and met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to discuss major regional issues and the "institutional stalemate" in Beirut that has so far blocked the president's appointment.

The face-to-face meeting comes at a time of profound change for Syria in the Arab and international world. Starting with its full return, sanctioned recently at a summit in Jeddah, within the Arab League after 10 years of isolation related to the suppression of the internal uprising, which later escalated into a proxy war between local and global powers. 

The meeting between former President Aoun and Assad is a political event closely followed by international experts and observers, as well as by the same political actors and observers of Lebanese affairs. Even and especially at a stage like the present one, when the (perhaps) decisive game is being played in the Baabda palace race.

On June 5, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berry convened deputies for a session scheduled for June 14 at 11 a.m. The goal is to get to the election of a new head of state, a post vacant since the end of Aoun's term, which has now expired on Oct. 31, 2022, and which also blocks the formation of an executive with full powers. 

The parliamentary session could prove decisive in the election of the president of the republic, with the likely confrontation between the candidacies of Sleiman Frangié and that of Jihad Azour.

The former is backed by the Shiite Amal-Hezbollah tandem while the latter, a former minister of the Lebanese Republic, has held senior roles within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is close to the Free Patriotic Movement (of Aoun himself) and several opposition parties.

L'Orient-Le Jour (LOJ), reports Aoun's visit to Syria "is an opportunity to emphasize his closeness with the [Assad] regime on several dossiers" and that the party's "repositioning in the presidential affair [the vote for Azour and not Frangié] has no impact on the rest."

Most importantly, the Lebanese Francophone daily continues, to state that "his battle is not against Sleiman Frangié as a friend of the Assad family, but rather against Nabih Berry" whom Aoun considers one of the pillars of the system of corruption that has ruined the country.

Aoun's visit to Assad-which raised more than one controversy in Lebanon among those opposed to "normalization" with Damascus-was also an opportunity to discuss Syrian refugees on Lebanese soil (and in Turkey) who have been waiting for years to return to their country.

This is a long-standing issue, with top officials in Beirut and Ankara interested in encouraging repatriation and Western governments (from Brussels to Washington) putting the brakes on by flaunting fears of violence and abuse of those who once opposed Assad or simply chose to migrate.

During the meeting, Aoun reportedly expressed to Assad his criticism of the "European position that is rejecting the return of refugees" and pushing, on the contrary, "to integrate them into Lebanese society."

Brussels, the former president attacked in a press note, would be exerting "all forms of pressure to prevent this return, claiming that they are protecting them from the regime in Syria."

In contrast, Assad reiterated to Aoun that "Syria has been and is always ready to welcome its children," adding that the issue should be addressed "through dialogue and cooperation between the two states."

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