BEIRUT: Lebanon used an Arab economic summit on Sunday to urge the return of refugees to safe areas of Syria after eight years of war.
President Michel Aoun told the meeting Lebanon was overwhelmed by Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who make up about half the population of a country struggling with an economic crisis.
He proposed the creation of an Arab bank for reconstruction and development “to help all affected Arab states overcome adversity and contribute to their sustainable economic growth.”
The meeting is the first economic and development summit since 2013, and comes as Syria, Yemen and Libya remain gripped by violence and Iraq confronts a massive reconstruction challenge after its costly victory over Daesh.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said nearly half of all refugees “come from our Arab world.”
The emir of Qatar, and the president of Mauritania were the only heads of state from the 22-member Arab League who attended the summit. Other countries sent lower-level delegations.
The other leaders’ absence was a snub to Lebanon, where groups led by Hezbollah had insisted that Bashar Assad of Syria should be invited.
Several hundred people protested in the streets of Beirut on Sunday, blaming politicians for growing economic troubles.
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