Minister of State for the Middle East and International Development Alistair Burt has reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to supporting a strong and prosperous Lebanon, announcing further support to the Lebanese Army and celebrating the UK’s investment in Lebanon’s future.
At a reception hosted to launch the Association of Lebanese Graduates of UK Universities, minister Burt formally announced SoUK.LB, a new initiative to help the growing social enterprise sector in Lebanon, which he described as an investment in Lebanon’s economy to boost job creation. He also urged ambitious Lebanese to apply for Masters programmes under the UK government’s Chevening scholarship scheme.
On the second day of his two-day visit, His Excellency minister Burt visited the Second Land Border Regiment at Ras Baalbek to see the Fajr el Jouroud operations room and witness firsthand how the UK is helping the Army move its border posts forward onto reclaimed territory. A number of brand new military positions have been built by the LAF throughout this area in the last few weeks, putting the Lebanese flag back on the furthest reaches of Lebanese territory, thanks to British support and funding. The new towers are just some of the 74 positions built with UK support since 2012, which will soon ensure the Lebanese Army secure the whole border with Syria, from the Mediterranean to Mount Hermon.
The minister’s tour also involved a visit to Al Irshad Public School for Girls in Beirut and an Informal Tented Settlement in the Bekaa, where he saw how the UK is helping to manage the challenge of the refugees as well as working on improvements to public schooling for the benefit of all children in Lebanon.
Speaking at the end of his visit minister Burt said:
I was delighted to return to Lebanon, a country I know well having visited three times since 2010. A lot has happened since my last visit in 2013. The Lebanese people are generously hosting more than 1.5 million refugees, an undeniable burden. The LAF were the first army in the region to repel Daesh in 2014, and in 2017 they have successfully expelled Daesh from Lebanese territory.
I held very constructive meetings with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. I reiterated the UK’s support for a strong, stable and prosperous Lebanon. We are proud of the excellent bilateral relationship between our two countries. Today I have witnessed first-hand the strength of our partnership in boosting the economy by creating jobs up and down the country; I saw it in our flagship programme of quality education in public schools for all children in Lebanon; in our humanitarian assistance to refugees; and in our steadfast support to the brave men and women of the Lebanese army who tirelessly defend Lebanon from terrorism.
I extended my congratulations on the successful military operation of the Lebanese army ‘Fajr El Jouroud’ against Daesh. This operation has anchored the army’s reputation as a professional and respected institution that has dramatically increased its capabilities in recent years. We are proud of the trust they have shown in the UK as a partner, from the streets of Beirut to the borders.
I am also proud to see the results of the UK’s contribution of £60 million to build over 70 military watchtowers, and provide over 300 Land Rovers and 3,000 sets of body armour. We have trained 8,000 soldiers and sent 150 LAF officers to the UK’s finest military academies. We are also providing £13 million to improve the police across Lebanon and especially here in Beirut, in support of the ISF’s own vision for reform by 2022.
The UK will remain by Lebanon’s side in actions and not just words, shoulder to shoulder for security, prosperity and stability.
It has been a great pleasure to be back. I’ve enjoyed my visit. I look forward to returning.