The Brazilian Foreign Relations Minister Celso Amorim had a meeting with the Lebanese community, in São Paulo. In a brief presentation, he reported how the rescue operation of more than three thousand Brazilians in Lebanon worked during the Israeli attacks in the country, between July and August.
The minister was honored during the event, held at the Monte Líbano social club, by Lebanese-Brazilian organizations. The event organized by Lody Brais, counted on the participation of the governor of the state of São Paulo, Cláudio Lembo, and the Lebanese ambassador in Brazil, Fouad El-Khoury.
Celso Amorim recalled that he was the second Foreign Minister to visit Beirut after the cease-fire. The minister noticed the Brazilian presence in the form of national football teams shirts and flags hanging on bicycles. But he also saw green and yellow shirts amidst the rubble. "At that moment I realized that Brazil is in Lebanon, as Lebanon is here," he said.
The war lasted over one month and left 1,500 dead Lebanese and 900,000 refugees. Israel started the attack on July 12 after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in an attack against a military post in the border region.
To ensure a successful operation for removing the Brazilians, the Brazilian Foreign Office Itamaraty and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) worked together. Logistics were necessary, as were intensive political negotiations.
"It wasn’t easy making the convoys travel towards Syria or Turkey without risks. These were operations that demanded diplomatic contacts of the highest level," he said.
To remove the victims from Beirut and southern Lebanon – the region most hit by Israel, where 70% of the people had to leave the region, the convoys headed for Turkey, through the north, since there was greater risk going through Syria, although many also went that way.
In the Turkish city of Adana, the Brazilian government practically set up a temporary consulate to solve emerging issues like expired visas and other diplomatic imbroglios.
That was where Brazilians would stay, in hotels around town, waiting for the flights made by the FAB and Brazilian commercial airlines. Contacts with the diplomats in Turkey and also with Israeli authorities and even the Americans were fundamental to ensure the safety of the Brazilian convoys.
The novel operation even surprised the minister himself. "It was a challenge, we learned that as the operation progressed. And it was a surprising success," said the minister to the Lebanese community during the event at Monte Líbano.
According to Amorim, Brazil intends to continue helping contribute to peace in the region. On August 31, during the Lebanon Donors’ Conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, Brazil collaborated with US$ 500,000.
The rescue operation was fundamental for Brazil for two main reasons. Firstly, because Brazil has the largest Lebanese community in the world – there are more descendants here than in Lebanon itself. Secondly, as this may count points in the conquest of a permanent seat in the Security Council at the United Nations (UN) – one of the targets of President Lula’s government.
Among the victims rescued, Amorim told the story of a woman with five children who told him that this was the third time she escaped from a war – but that it had been the first time she received assistance from the Brazilian government.
"It was very touching. I felt that we were doing something concrete – as in the world of diplomacy things seem very abstract. I do not know where the woman is now, I would like to meet her once more," said the minister.