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Hollande in BeirutFrench President Francois Hollande concluded on Sunday his two-day trip to Lebanon by declaring : ” France only has one candidate for the presidential elections, and it is Lebanon.”

During his trip to Lebanon Hollande met with senior officials and visited a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern Bekaa region.

Sunday morning, he held separate talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai and later Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji

Al-Rai reiterated during the meeting the need to elect a a president to fill the vacuum that has persisted since 2014.

He revealed according to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that he sensed a “seriousness” from Hollande to end Lebanon’s crisis.

“Officials should search for the real reasons why parliament has not been able to hold electoral sessions,” he remarked from the Snoubar residence, the headquarters of the French ambassador to Lebanon.

He handed the French official a memorandum on the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the presidential vacuum, and terrorism in the region, said VOL (100.5).

For his part, Hollande said: “France only has one candidate for the presidential elections, and it is Lebanon.”

He then headed to the Bekaa to meet with Syrian refugees at the Dalhamieh camp.

French President Francois Hollande (L) meets with a Syrian family at Dalhamiyeh refugee camp
French President Francois Hollande (L) meets with a Syrian family at Dalhamiyeh refugee camp

“I just visited a camp the likes of which are all over Lebanon,” Hollande told reporters after spending nearly an hour at the camp.

“They (Syrian children) don’t want violence. They want to learn and go home, join their families, their country,” he said.

Two Syrian families in the Bekaa are expected to be sent to France where they will be naturalized, media reports said.

About 15 Syrian schoolchildren greeted the French president as he entered the large communal tent used as their makeshift school.

They recited a poem in Arabic and gave Hollande pictures they had drawn.

“You will be the messengers of peace… France’s children are thinking of you a lot,” Hollande told them.

He met with the U.N. refugee agency’s Lebanon representative Mireille Girard, who said difficult living conditions were forcing young Syrian children into child labor.

The French president later announced that France will grant Lebanon 50 million euros to support the displaced and underlined the need for a political solution to the crisis in Syria to ensure the safe return of refugees to their homeland.

Hollande also noted that France will keep pushing for the implementation of the Saudi-French agreement on providing the Lebanese army with weapons, which was suspended earlier this year amid high tensions between the kingdom and Hizbullah.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014 when the term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of a successor.

Maritime border

Speaker Nabih Berri requested during his meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Saturday France’s assistance in demarcating Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Mediterranean that borders with Israel, according to al-Hayat newspaper report that was published on Sunday.

A parliamentary source revealed that “this is a problem that Israel is creating and it may spark a war.”

Berri added to Hollande: “Israel’s violations against Lebanon are not limited to the air and land, but include the the sea.”

“Israel is claiming part of the EEZ as its own when in fact we have evidence of the contrary,” said the speaker.

“This dispute is hindering our efforts to invest in our oil and gas wealth,” he lamented.

Hezbollah meeting canceled
Hollande was expected to hold talks during his visit to Beirut with a delegation from Hezbollah, reported the Kuwaiti daily al-Seyassah on Sunday.

Hezbollah had requested that the meeting be held, but it was canceled due to the conflict between the party and the international community, said ministerial sources.

The daily predicted that the cancellation of the talks will further complicate efforts to resolve the vacuum in the presidency in Lebanon.

Al-Seyassah revealed that Hezbollah chose to cancel the meeting with the French President. Political sources interpreted the step as “an Iranian message to France that the issue of the presidency lies strictly in Tehran’s hands.”

Hezbollah’s media relations office clarified that a meeting was not scheduled with Hollande during his trip, said the Kuwaiti daily al-Anba.

Sources told the daily that two months ago, the French ambassador had requested a meeting between Hollande and Hezbollah MP Mohammed Raad. Discussions reached a point that a meeting was scheduled for Saturday, but the stances made by Hollande hours before the talks forced the party to cancel.

Hollande kicked off on Saturday a two-day visit to Lebanon where he held talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and a number of other officials.

He demanded on Saturday the “swift” election of a president, saying however that this issue is in the hands of Lebanese MPs.

Willing to host dialogue talks

France is convinced that only a “consensual” president would be able to end the vacuum in the presidency, reported the Kuwaiti daily al-Seyassah on Sunday.

Ministerial sources told the daily that French President Francois Hollande is willing to host inter-Lebanese dialogue that would be limited to resolving the vacuum in the presidency after it appeared that neither Change and Reform chief MP Michel Aoun nor Marada Movement head MP Suleiman Franjieh will be elected to the post.

A consensual head of state will help revitalize state institutions and agencies, stressed the sources.

Hollande met also Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, MP Walid Jumblatt with his son Taymour   and Franjieh

Geagea-Hollande
French President Francois Hollande (L) meets with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at the Snouber palace

Talks between Hollande and Franjieh only focused on the issue of the presidential elections, LBC reported.

On the other hand Hollande and Geagea held lengthy discussions over the issue of the presidential vote and they also discussed Syria’s situation and the terrorism in Europe, LBC reported.

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