Italy supports Lebanon says Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano vowed that his country would continue supporting Lebanon's economy and army.
"Lebanon is a module for democracy and pluralism in the Middle East," Alfano said in a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart FM Gebran Bassil.
The Italian minister said that Lebanon "plays a key role in maintaining the region's stability."
"Our aid to Lebanon is to preserve it," he said.
The minister praised Lebanon's efforts in hosting the large number of Syrians on its territories.
More than 1 million Syrians – including over 500,000 children – are registered in Lebanon as refugees.
"Italy is present in Lebanon through its [UNIFIL] peacekeepers [in south Lebanon]," Alfano said.
The Italian foreign minister also dismissed allegations that Italian oil giant Eni SpA had bribed Lebanese officials.
“As you know the company denied this issue and considered that the statements [that were made at the time] were baseless and the Lebanese state in its turn had also denied it,” he said in response to a question.
Bassil told reporters that "Lebanon has reached a breaking point due to the economic, living and security burdens posed by the presence of heavy Syrian refugees."
"There is no country that has taken in as many refugees as Lebanon has relatively to its population," Alfano said, echoing Bassil's concerns.
The Lebanese FM encouraged Italian companies to be involved in Lebanon's fledgling oil and gas sector, and to continue building strong economic relations with Lebanon.
"We thank Italy’s involvement with UNIFIL," Bassil said. "And we shed light [during the meeting] on the UNIFIL's role in maintaining Lebanon’s stability despite constant Israeli violations."
After arriving in Beirut, Alfano headed directly to the Baabda Palace for talks with President Michel Aoun.
The Italian official handed over to Aoun an official invitation letter from Italian President Sergio Mattarella to visit Italy.
The talks with Aoun was the first of several planned for the day in Beirut with the highest Lebanese authorities prior to the minister's travel to southern Lebanon to meet with over 1,000 Italian 'Blue Helmets' involved in the UNIFIL mission in the buffer zone along the border with Israel. ''Italy,'' Alfano said in a statement published on his blog, ''has for many years had its soldiers in Lebanon. We are in the south and it is here that we have our best forces, which contribute greatly to the training of their armed forces, which are now highly qualified.'' The foreign minister also underscored that Italian cooperation for development ''has been active for decades in Lebanon and, as part of the EU, Italy is one of the main countries providing donations to Lebanon''.
Alfano later met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The two officials discussed the recent political developments in the region and the bilateral ties between Lebanon and Italy.
Alfano also met with Speaker Nabih Berri and discussed local and regional affairs.
The Italian FM also visited his country's UNIFIL contingent in south Lebanon.