Lebanese president stresses during Brazil visit that Lebanon needs backing in the face of threats

Lebanese Premier Hariri discusses with Italian leadership Israel’s threats and Lebanon’s need for military, economic support

Hariri denies Scud missiles received by resistance forces in Lebanon

Lebanese army commander says Israel’s threats would not affect decision to defend every inch of south lands

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman kicked off his visit to Brazil on Thursday by meeting with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who renewed his support for Lebanon.

Sleiman and da Silva discussed bilateral ties, whereby da Silva extended support to Lebanon and its causes and noted the pivotal role played by Brazilians of Lebanese descent.

Sleiman also met on Thursday with a delegation of Brazilian politicians of Lebanese descent, which included ministers and lawmakers.

The population of Brazil identifying with either full or partial Lebanese descent is estimated at between 6 to 7 million people.

This number of immigrants is larger than the population in Lebanon. Immigration of the Lebanese to Brazil started in the late 19th century. It grew further in the 20th century and was concentrated in the state of Sao Paulo, but also extended to Minas Gerais, Goias, Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil.

Most Lebanese immigrants in Brazil have worked as traders, roaming the vast country to sell textiles and clothes and open new markets. Lebanese-Brazilians are well integrated into Brazilian society.

Many Brazilians of Lebanese descent have reached prominent positions in many domains, including politics.

Sleiman urged the Lebanese community in Sao Paolo to return and invest in Lebanon, while calling for the unity of the Lebanese diaspora.

Sleiman invited the Lebanese to come back to Lebanon “to build its glory” just as their “grandfathers ventured by traveling to Brazil and established Lebanon’s glory in it and in the whole world.”

Sleiman’s remarks came during a reception organized by the Lebanese Consul to Brazil Youssef Sayyah in honor of Sleiman, his wife and the accompanying delegation in the Mount Lebanon Club.

He detailed the progress achieved in Lebanon on all levels, which represented a motivation for the Lebanese in Brazil to invest in their home country.

Sleiman voiced his determination to unite institutions representing Lebanese expatriates.

As he paid tribute for the “spirits” of Lebanese that came to Brazil decades ago and contributed to developing this country, the president thanked the Brazilians and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for welcoming the Lebanese immigrants.

During talks with several delegations visiting him at his residence in Sao Paolo, Sleiman voiced his belief that solidarity among the Lebanese community in Brazil was a factor helping in strengthening unity as well as connection with the mother land.

Also, Sleiman attended a lunch ceremony in his honor and the accompanying delegation convened by Sao Paolo’s mayor Michel Tamer.

Sleiman said that Lebanon was busy re-establishing its constitutional and administrative institutions based on modern reformist foundations and on the concepts of transparency, democracy, loyalty and justice. He added that Lebanon was interested in making use of its friends’ experiences to achieve those goals successfully.

For her part, first lady Wafaa Sleiman visited “Lebanon’s Cedars Association” in Sao Paolo where she was briefed on the programs which specialized on educating deprived Brazilian children.

Received by the head of the association Marly Haddad al-Khoury, Sleiman underlined the importance of exchanging expertise in the field of social work between Lebanon and Brazil.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri denied Wednesday that Hezbollah had received long-range Scud missiles from Syria and said the allegations were concocted by Israel to threaten his country.

"These accusations are reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction allegations against Saddam Hussein: they were never found, they did not exist," Hariri said in an interview with Italy's La Stampa newspaper.

"Israel is trying to reproduce the same scenario for Lebanon. The rumours about Scud are only a pretext for threatening my country," he said, calling the claims "false."

Israeli President Shimon Peres has publicly accused neighbouring Syria of sending Hezbollah Scuds.

Washington summoned the top Syrian diplomat Monday to address what it called "provocative behaviour" over the potential transfer of the missiles, which it said could be a threat to Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah, a Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist group, is on the U.S. terrorism blacklist but is part of Lebanon's unity government. The group fought a war with Israel in 2006 and has strong support in mainly Shiite south Lebanon.

Syria denied earlier this month that it had furnished Hezbollah with Scuds, saying Israel might be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike.

Hariri, who has frequently clashed with Hezbollah in the past, said the group had legitimately won elections in southern Lebanon and could only be disarmed via political dialogue.

Hariri and his allies accused Syria of assassinating his father and former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005.

His disagreements with Syria's ally, Hezbollah, threatened to plunge Lebanon into a new civil war. But he has since mended ties with Syria and formed a government that includes the group.

"We have turned the page with Syria. Assad and I have decided to work together to improve our relations in respect of our mutual sovereignty. Of course, you cannot expect everything to change with one meeting, but we will manage it," Hariri said.

Hariri said a special court set up in The Hague to investigate his father's killing must be allowed to do its job.

A U.N. investigation into the assassination first implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials but later held back from giving details. The special court in The Hague has yet to indict anyone, while Syria and Hezbollah have denied any role.

Hariri accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of working against the peace process in the Middle East.

"The real problem is that Israel doesn't want to give the Palestinians land or recognise the two state solution," said Hariri, who visited Rome for a meeting with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Tuesday.

Hariri met Monday with the Lebanese community in Rome as part of his official visit to Italy.

Hariri also discussed with Arab ambassadors in the Italian capital the peace process and Lebanese-European relations.

Sources close to Hariri said the premier was following up on the visit paid by the delegation of general directors from all Lebanese ministries to Damascus Monday.

According to those sources, Hariri, who will visit Damascus in the following weeks, was open to relations with Syria based on a positive foundation.

The sources said Hariri’s visit to Italy was of significant importance to Lebanon since Italy was a major participant in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Based on the sources, Hariri’s discussions with Italian officials will include providing support for the Lebanese Army and will urge them to maintain their contribution to UNIFIL. Asked about photographs displayed by US Ambassador to Lebanon Michel Sison showing trucks she claimed were transferring arms to Hezbollah via Syria, Hariri said he had not met Sison for a long time.

On another note, President Michel Sleiman chaired a meeting at Baabda Palace as part of preparations for his upcoming visit to Brazil. The meeting was attended by ministers Tarek Mitri, Mona Ofeish, Ali Abdullah, Salim Al-Sayegh, and Mohammad Rahhal as well as the staff accompanying Sleiman on his trip.

On the other hand, Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji visited the site of the first Qana massacre in the south on Wednesday on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of the mass murder.

Kahwaji placed flowers on the tombs of the fallen victims and said that he considered them as “family.”

He then referred to Israeli threats against Lebanon and said they were insignificant compared to the army’s determination to defend its country.

“Israel’s threats are a diversion from its internal crises and they aim to mislead local and international communities,” Kahwaji said.

Kahwaji added that Lebanon’s liberation from Israeli occupation was the result of sacrifices made by the people and by the army and he called on all Lebanese to be proud of their achievements.

During his visit, he was greeted by Liberation and Development representative MP Abd al-Majeed Saleh and Loyalty to the Resistance representative MP Nawaf al-Moussawi who both gave speeches condemning the murders.

About 800 people took refuge in a UN compound near the village of Qana in 1996 but over 100 were killed when Israeli forces bombed the area. The incident took place amidst heavy fighting between Israel and Hezbollah forces during what was known as Operation Grapes of Wrath.

“Our families who were massacred here will not find any protection outside their own capacities, meaning outside the Resistance and the army,” said Moussawi, condemning the United Nations secretary general’s description of the massacre as an act of negligence.

He then addressed the Lebanese and warned them that only their own people and their own army would protect them, adding that the resistance would always stay by the army’s side and would support it in facing Israeli aggressions.

Moussawi also addressed Kahwaji and praised him for his coordination with the resistance and for all his efforts in liberating south Lebanon.

He then vowed the army and the resistance would always support each other and would work on punishing Israel for the crimes it has committed.

Israel bombarded the village of Qana again during the summer 2006 war and 28 civilians were killed, of which 16 were children. It targeted a three-storey building in the village and the airstrike became known as the second Qana massacre.

“Qana will always be in our minds no matter what happens and no matter how costly the sacrifices get. It is our duty to defend our land and our people,” Kahwaji said.