FM: International community must try and prevent Middle East escalation

The foreign minister said the threat of an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East is “a major concern of ours in Hungary”.

Speaking in Beirut, Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said the international community must do everything possible to prevent the escalation of the armed conflict in the Middle East, arguing that a war between Israel and Lebanon would mean a regional war.

Minister Szijjártó told a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Abdallah Bou Habib, that the threat of an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East is “a major concern of ours in Hungary”. “The whole international community has a huge responsibility in this” and it must “do its best” to prevent an escalation, the minister said. He warned of the threat of a regional war or an even wider conflict if just one other country joined the fighting, saying it was therefore vital to avoid a war between Israel and Lebanon. “We all know that Lebanon doesn’t want a war, we understand that the Lebanese people don’t want war … and we all know that the Lebanese government does not want war, either,” Minister Szijjártó said. He said the international community should therefore support Beirut in its efforts to prevent a war. Szijjártó said that hopefully the international community understood the importance of avoiding such a conflict and would mobilise its capacities in the interest of preventing an escalation in the region.

Rather than “blackmailing” Lebanon and “threatening it with sanctions”, the international community and the European Union should support it in order to prevent an escalation of the armed conflict in the Middle East, Minister Szijjártó said. The world has entered “an era of dangers” and faces serious security challenges, as evidenced by the ongoing wars in both Hungary’s and Lebanon’s direct neighbourhoods, Szijjártó told a joint press conference with Gebran Bassil, the head of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement, according to a ministry statement. Hungary is growing “increasingly concerned” over the conflict in the Middle East, he said, adding that the country has friendly relations with Lebanon and a friendly and strategic partnership with Israel. “We may not agree on this completely, but for us, it is unacceptable for a terrorist organisation to launch thousands of missiles at another country,” Szijjártó said. “That is why we consider the success of counter-terrorist operations to be a global interest, not just that of Israel.” “At the same time, we also think that civilians should be protected, that the hostages should be released without delay, and … escalation of the Middle East conflict should be prevented,” the minister said.

Minister Szijjártó warned of the risks of a regional or broader conflict, which he said would have “tragic consequences” for global security. He said the Lebanese government played a significant role in preventing the war from escalating, adding that the international community and the EU should support the Middle Eastern country in this role. “Support and help is needed, rather than threats of sanctions and blackmail and condescension,” he said. Hungary, he added, was prepared to help prevent another armed conflict. Minister Szijjártó said Hungary had so far done everything it could in this respect, noting that the government was aiding the local Christian community. Hungary has so far provided 5.5 billion forints (EUR 14.3m) worth of aid to the local Christian community, he said, adding that it has renovated 33 churches so far and was renovating another 30. The government is also providing emergency aid to some 800 people in need of medical care for four months, he said. Hungary is also assisting in the operations of Christian hospitals and schools, aiding the rehabilitation of monasteries and orphanages, and offers scholarships to 50 Lebanese university students each year, the minister added. Meanwhile, he pointed out that Lebanon also had to deal with the burden of caring for 1.5 million to 2 million Syrian refugees. “We know full well that if you didn’t provide care for these people, they would set off towards Europe, and then we Europeans would be the ones faced with even more, serious security challenges, which Europe today does not seem as fit to handle,” Minister Szijjártó said.