BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday Lebanon would uphold its rights over its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone against any designs by Israel, while reaffirming Beirut's commitment to international resolutions, including the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Sleiman also expressed his government’s backing of the establishment of a Palestinian state and commended the role of U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon.
“We emphasize that we strongly uphold our full sovereignty and economic rights over our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone as well as freedom of the exploitation of our natural resources, be they on land or in the deep sea, independently from any designs or threats,” Sleiman said at the 66th meeting of the General Assembly in New York.
The Lebanese president said his government had been in correspondence with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on the extent of Lebanon’s waters and boundaries, “namely the geographic coordinates respectively pertaining to the southernmost and southwest border of the economic exclusive zone of Lebanon.”
Sleiman said Lebanon had expressed its objection to Israeli violations and aggression that affected these rights, and warned against "any initiative to exploit the resources of the disputed maritime zone.”
Sleiman also touched on the issue of Lebanon’s international obligations, including that of the U.N.-backed court that has been a divisive issue among Lebanese politicians.
“Lebanon has always been committed to respecting resolutions of international legitimacy including those of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and that is in accordance with the letter and spirit and ministerial statements of successive cabinets,” he said, referring to the international court that is probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and which has indicted four members of Hezbollah in the crime.
Sleiman launched his speech by noting that this year’s U.N. gathering was taking place at a time when the region was witnessing what he described as a renaissance in Arab countries which are seeking “freedom, democracy and the establishment of the rule of law, away from authoritarianism, favoritism and corruption.”
“Lebanon, along with its scholars, media and activists, has accompanied and supported every renaissance project in the East and contributed to refining and upholding its banner. It can only hail all peaceful approaches or means to achieve reform, to consecrate the principles of democracy, justice and modernity and to preserve human dignity and fundamental freedoms.”
Sleiman said the transformations transpiring in the Arab world needed to be channeled for the common good of the people and to prevent it from “veering toward extremism, chaos or fragmentation and division on religions and sectarian bases.”
The president, who will chair a Security Council meeting later in the week, said Lebanon supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his efforts to gain recognition for a Palestinian state.
“It is important to underscore the rightful Palestinian efforts aiming at earning the recognition of the state of Palestine and its full membership to the United Nations in line with the right of self determination. Lebanon will back these efforts in order for the latter to succeed with the coordination and cooperation of brotherly and friendly countries.”
However, Sleiman stressed that recognition of Palestinian state would not equate to a final solution to the Palestinian question, adding that UNWRA, the U.N agency caring for Palestinian refugees, would still bear full responsibility for providing relief for the refugees until they could exercise their right to return.
During his speech, Sleiman also praised the role of U.N. peacekeepers based in south Lebanon and denounced bomb attacks earlier this year against members of the Italian and French contingents of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
While voicing support for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which brokered a cessation of hostilities of the July-August 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, Sleiman slammed the Jewish state for its constant breaches of the resolution.
Sleiman urged the international community to pressure Israel to comply with the provisions of the resolution.
“This requires Israel to halt its daily violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and to immediately pull out from Lebanese territories that it still occupies in the northern part of Ghajjar village, the Shebaa Farms and the hills of Kfar Shouba.”
Sleiman added that the Jewish state had to end its “designs to destabilize the country through its formation of spying networks and the recruitment of agents.”
Without referring to the Lebanese resistance, Sleiman added: “We retain the right to liberate or retrieve all our occupied territories by all legitimate means.”