Speech of H.E. Fuad Siniora: "NAHR EL BARED CRISIS APPEAL"- Post Conflict Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction

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Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:


Welcome and thank you all for coming, Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd of UNRWA, His Excellency Mr. Abbas Zaki, the Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Lebanon, Ambassadors representing our Arab brothers and friends of Lebanon, Mr. Joseph Saba from the World Bank, Heads of the Six Municipalities of the towns surrounding the camp of Nahr el Bared. Your Excellencies.  Thank you for coming and participating. 


I view us all as one team with an important task ahead of us. The Nahr el Bared crisis was very costly in human life, particularly for our army.  That sacrifice can never be compensated. Lost lives cannot be restored. But the shattered lives of tens of thousands of civilians can and should be restored. The physical damage, though extensive, is limited in comparison.  But if we fail to rebuild, it will not only be tragic, but the dangers will be limitless.


This was a wake-up call.  The stakes are high. The potential threat from violent extremism is against us all. Against us in Lebanon, against us in the Arab world, the Muslim world. Against us all in the world at large.


As you are aware, last week the Lebanese army achieved victory over terrorists, who sought chaos and destruction equally for the Lebanese and the Palestinians.  This group which called itself Fateh al Islam had no connection with the Muslim religion or Fateh.  They had unexpected and enormous capabilities and combined a misguided ideology with likely links to various political agendas.  It was a costly, but unavoidable battle that was imposed on us.  It was not a battle of choice. This was a necessary battle to uphold law and order and the authority of the state; it was a battle for the future of Lebanon, for the security of the region and the world.   


The Lebanese government demonstrated resolve and determination in this fierce battle. There were many obstacles along the way.  The battle was long and our army displayed great courage even if often ill-equipped. But it had to persevere and it did. At the same time, upper most in the priorities of the government and military was the moral obligation to spare civilian life.  We have taken every measure to ensure that these ethical principles were upheld. 


One hundred and sixty four brave Lebanese soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice, as did members of the Internal Security Force and two members of the Lebanese Red Cross.  Many of these soldiers came from the area surrounding the Nahr el Bared camp where the fighting took place. We revere the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives and acknowledge the sacrifices of those who were injured and became incapacitated and all who fought bravely and consider it as a cornerstone on the path for a safer, more peaceful Lebanon.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


The challenge of peacemaking is often greater than the challenge of war; and the challenges we face in the aftermath of the Nahr el Bared conflict are manifold.  You have all seen pictures of the severe damage and destruction the camp and surrounding area sustained. All the camp’s 32,000 residents were displaced, many for the second and third times in their lives.  The region as a whole has suffered serious economic losses. 


Let me make this very clear once more, this was not a conflict between Lebanese and Palestinians. We were both the target of a group of lethal terrorists.  Tensions arising between the camp and its environment needed to be diffused.  We have thus cooperated closely with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and various Palestinian groups in order to minimize political sensitivities during the crisis.


This remains a priority in the post-crisis phase. It is for this reason that we have considered Nahr el-Bared and its surrounding area are as a single disaster zone, as the tragedy of the events that took place there did not differentiate between Lebanese and Palestinians. They all suffered a great deal. We want to restore peace and normalcy to the camp; and this can only happen in friendly waters. 


We have to demonstrate commitment, and ensure that the required financial support is available in a timely manner.  This is why we need your help. Lebanon cannot do this alone. It is simply beyond our capacity especially after our country has endured over 30 consecutive years of conflict, instability, occupation and destruction.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


As most of you know, Lebanon still has bleeding wounds from previous conflicts and from last year’s brutal Israeli aggression.  We are still working, and beyond our means, to compensate displaced people in Mount Lebanon, Beirut and the North and rehabilitate their villages while at the same time helping in rebuilding the South and southern neighborhood of Beirut from the destruction of last year’s war.  The Nahr el Bared crisis has created yet another strain we really cannot afford; certainly not alone when our national economy is struggling and we are still battling for the country's independence and state sovereignty, and experiencing political assassinations and terror attacks.  Lebanon still has much healing to do, but we remain determined to do all that is in our capacity to fulfill our responsibilities and realize our goals. 


Ladies and Gentlemen:


Lebanonremains committed to the Palestinians’ inalienable right to return to their homeland. Lebanon also puts its full support behind the Arab Summit Beirut Declaration of 2002.  This was a genuine offer of peace based on ending the occupation and realizing a just and fair resolution to the refugee issue based on UN resolutions and international law. While the refugees remain an international responsibility, the issue is unfortunately yet to be comprehensively addressed or resolved by the international community.  This has had many serious repercussions, compounding the tragedy and injustice the Palestinians have endured. This needs to change. We must give them some hope and confidence that the international community is on their side and will not abandon them.  


As you know, the history of Lebanon's relations with the Palestinian refugees has often been a difficult one. This government came to office a little over two years ago with the intent as well of putting that history behind us and working to build Lebanese-Palestinian relations on healthy and solid ground. Our aim has been to provide the Palestinians living in Lebanon with a life of dignity, security and prosperity, within an environment where law and order prevails, until a just solution is realized when they can exercise their right of return.  This is in line with the Lebanese consensus and what is clearly stipulated in the Lebanese Constitution that clearly supports this right, rejecting their permanent settlement in the country.


From the start of its term, this government has taken concrete steps toward these goals, standing for change and working along the path of trust-building and the peaceful resolution of disagreement. We established the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in October of 2005, with Ambassador Makkawi as Secretary-General. The Committee made important progress. But its work was unfortunately impeded by domestic political tensions as well as Israel’s aggression in the summer of 2006. 


The Nahr el Bared crisis has served as a loud reminder. The situation in the camps is urgent and unsustainable. It requires our serious attention and action.  Nahr el Bared and its surrounding area should be a vital priority. The area surrounding Nahr el Bared sustained serious damages during the crisis. Six municipalities, which are among Lebanon’s poorest, were directly affected with the cost of emergency relief and early recovery alone exceeding USD28million.


We are thus presenting you with a comprehensive package divided into two main phases: (i) relief and early recovery to the affected population  within the camp andin the municipalities Muhammara, Bebnine, Bhanine, Minieh, Beddawi and Deir Ammar; (ii) recovery of the camp and its reconstruction in the second phase. It combines the efforts of the Lebanese government institutions, UN agencies and the World Bank, who have agreed to work together.  A joint assessment of the reconstruction and recovery needs is currently being conducted. The World Bank has agreed to set up a trust fund for the recovery, reconstruction and development phase.  The proposed trust fund will address the socio-economic needs of Palestinian refugees as well as the affected Lebanese citizens living in adjacent municipalities. With the financial burden spread over time, we have to plan for the whole operation from now.  This requires your firm commitment and support for its entirety, even if the details will come later.


As I have said, the entire area in and around the camp will be considered a single disaster area.  UNRWA will cooperate with the Lebanese government to ensure that everyone in the region receives the appropriate services.  UNRWA and the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, as well as the High Relief Committee, have already been working closely and effectively together in the relief effort, so this will be a continuation of that relationship.  However, we are in need of immediate contributions for the emergency relief phase, which is becoming even more critical as the holy month of Ramadan approaches. 


The scale of the challenge before us is unprecedented. The size of the reconstruction effort alone will be considerable.  However, succeeding in this would provide us with an ideal opportunity to enter in a new era of Lebanese-Palestinian relations.  This might be our chance to accelerate progress in our policy towards the Palestinian refuges and the Palestinian camps more generally. We need to work efficiently and carefully to avoid having problems in all the other camps.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


The residents of Nahr el-Bared were promised that their evacuation is temporary, their return is guaranteed and the reconstruction of their homes is assured.  This cannot be another broken promise to the Palestinians. 


Our other priority is to restore and improve the environment in which they were living, while maintaining its social structure and affording its residents a life of peace and dignity. We will also ensure that the security situation does not return to the status quo ante.  The Lebanese state intends to provide the Palestinians with real security under the rule of law, rather than have it administered under special security arrangements.  They will be treated justly, fairly and with respect to their dignity and human rights.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


The stakes are very high.  Failing to rebuild Nahr el-Bared will mean catastrophic consequences. We cannot risk chaos and violence in any of Lebanon’s 11 other camps.  Phenomena like Fateh el-Islam should no longer find safe havens and fertile grounds in the refugee camps.


This is a shared responsibility.  The international community bears a solid responsibility toward the plight of the refugees.  We are all paying the price for over five decades of failure to deal rightly with the issue of the situation of the Palestinian refugees and Lebanon has borne more than its fair share of the consequences. This must change. Lebanon is not capable of dealing with the relief and reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared and the surrounding area on its own.  However, together, it can be done.


In rebuilding Nahr el Bared, the Lebanese residents of the surrounding area should not be forgotten.  They too have suffered from the war and they too deserve our attention and assistance.


We must learn the lessons of the past in order to secure a stable, peaceful future.  The situation in Nahr el Bared evolved over sixty years in a way that made this crisis possible.  This must change.  The situation requires our action.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


It has been going on for too long.  This was all the result of a crime that was committed against the Palestinians before the eyes and ears of the international community. Lebanon and the Lebanese have paid a heavy price at the expense of their livelihoods, compromising their future, even losing the lives of their children.  Now again we are dealing with this crime’s burdens and repercussions, barely one year after the devastation of Israel’s destructive war on Lebanon. 


What happened in Nahr el Bared should not happen again.  Anywhere.  We can no longer neglect the situation. Until a just solution is reached, whereby the Palestinian refugees return to their homeland, they must live in peace, dignity and security.  We must all play our roles in realizing that.  Lebanon is committed to doing its part. I hope that the international community and our Arab brothers will do the same and extend the necessary support. 


The stakes are too high. We must transform this crisis into an opportunity to build a better, safer future.  While we have sacrificed life, life is what we are fighting for.  All we ask is that our brothers and friends share with us at least the financial burden, so that Lebanon can flourish, and the Palestinians can live in safety until they return to their homeland.  We all look to a day when the necessary circumstances for a just and comprehensive peace are realized and stability prevails.


Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen, for being here, for your support.


Thank you.

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