Speaker Nabih Berri yesterday welcomed Argentine president Carlos Menem at the parliament where both officials addressed the house in a speech focused on bilateral relations and the situation in Lebanon and the Middle East.
Mr Berri reminded the audience of Menem's Syrian origins: "Our host is from the Syrian village of Yabroud and was born in a house where Arab traditions were predominant."
Mr. Berri praised Menem for his efforts to consolidate relations between his homeland , Syria, and his country, Argentine, and also for his involvement in the Middle East peace process.
"WE welcome today a freedom fighter who has studied law and has launched his battle on the basis of
compliance with the constitution," said the speaker.
He added that Menem started his political activities "at a time when political life was paralysed or quasi-parlaysed."
"He was first elected governor of the state where he was born before becoming Argentine's president for two terms." Mr. Berri stressed the importance of seeing all Argentine Mps and senators of Lebanese origin take part in the third summit of Parliamentarians of Lebanese origin, scheduled on April 18 in Lebanon, the same day Lebanon will commemorate the 1996 Qana massacre.
The speaker stressed that bilateral relations between Lebanon and Argentine was "reinforced by a human bridge of around one million Argentines of Lebanese origin.
"Lebanon has been submitted to daily Israeli attcaks for more than fifty years, during which Israel has been using modern artillery, including internationally banned arms, to destroy all aspects of life," said Mr Berri.
"These attacks have constituted a perpetual paradox to the 1948 armistice agreement, and have caused an enormous amount of destruction and massacres that no population can afford," including the Israeli shelling of the UNIFIL headquarters in Qana on April 18, 1996, said the speaker.
"Despite the issuing of resolution 425 on March 19, 1978, that is around twenty years ago, Israel has maintained its military aggression and has occupied two-thirds of our territory since 1982, which led to the launching of the national resistance from Khalde, at Beirut's southern entrance."
The resistance, said Mr. Berri, was a "natural reaction to the occupation and to violence, and is in harmony with
international legitimacy," said the speaker.
"It was thanks to the resistance, which has become a tool for Lebanese peace, that the occupation area was reduces, while Israeli attacks and violence continued to intensify," said Mr. Berri.
The speaker noted that the Israeli insistence to "bombard schools, hospitals, sacred places and civilians neighbourhoods," and to kill "children, women and senior citizens."
In 1994, 27 students were either killed or wounded when Israeli shelling surprised them as they were leaving their Nabatyieh school.
Also in 1994, 25 civilians were killed during the bombardment of a residential building at Dayr al-Zahrani, Mr. Berri said.
Referring to the international report which was issued on the Qana massacre in 1996, Mr. Berri said the UNIFIL headquarters, used as a shelter by more than 800 Lebanese, were bombarded, leading to the death of around 100 people, while many others were injured.
On April 26, an agreement was reached between the fighting parties, known as the April understanding,
banning shelling against civilians.
However, said the speaker, this kind of bombardment did not stop: Since the April understanding, 175 people have been killed, 260 others were wounded and 240 housing units were destroyed. Mr. Berri listed "resettlement, economic embargo, deportation, detention and destruction," as the basis of Israeli policy.
He called on "Argentine and all other countries which cherish peace" to work on stopping Israel from killing and occupying land by force."
Mr. Berri also demanded the implementation of resolutions 242, 338 and 425, and expressed his shock that Israel was being exempted from abiding by UN resolutions. The speaker also pointed out that "what regulates relations between Lebanon and Israel is the armistice agreement," rejecting any "isolated compromise at Syria's expenses." "What links Lebanon to Syria is unity in destiny before the unity in peace tracks," said Mr. Berri.
Mr Berri also said that any mention of a "partial Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon is a proof that Israel is unable to break the resistance."
The speaker asserted that "Lebanon has regained its stability and security."
"Despite the economic and social crises that developing countries, including Lebanon, are facing," said the speaker, major steps have been achieved towards boosting the economic sector and activating investments."
To Mr. Menem, the speaker said that "your visit to Lebanon and to the Lebanese people and their representatives is an additional proof that faith in Lebanon is mounting."
Preident Menem said that "Argentines of Lebanese origin are more than 1.5 million and constitute one of the
most important Lebanese colonies."
"They have contributed to a great extent to the development of my country in the various fields," Mr. Menem said. He stressed that "the points of view of our two countries coincide on several issues, particularly regarding our permanent concern of the situation in the Middle East."
"Argentine is convinced of the necessity to find a concensual solution to the conflict, a reason which makes us reiterate our support to the 1991 Madrid peace conference and to the Oslo and Washington agreements."
MR Menem said his country will continue to support the International Community in its drive to establish a lasting peace in the region.
"We would like to reassert Argentine's traditional support to Lebanon's territorial integrity and sovereignty,
and our commitment to the implementation of the UN resolutions," said Mr. Menem.
The Argentine also stressed the importance of reinforcing trade bilateral relations between Argentine and Lebanon, and pointed out that Argentine foreign ministry has scheduled a meeting of Argentine tradors to which Lebanese participation will be more than welcomed.
"We are convinced that Lebanon, through its culture, trade traditions, geographic location and the energetic mentality of its citizens, will have a major role in the regional progress and development," Mr. Menem asserted.
Developed in the Lebanese Parliament in cooperation with the
Center for Legislative Development - State University of New York at Albany.