BEIRUT: The murder of brothers Tony and Nayef Saleh on Friday raised tensions between historical rivals the Marada Movement and the Lebanese Forces (LF) only days ahead of Sunday’s municipal polls in the north Lebanon governorate, considered a stronghold for both camps.
The Saleh brothers were Marada Movement supporters and they were allegedly shot by Hanna al-Bersawi, an LF follower in the north Lebanon Koura village of Dahr al-Ain.
Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh held the LF responsible and urged the state on Saturday to fulfill its duty in protecting the people and in providing security. Conversely, LF MPs Strida Geagea and Elie Keyrouz said the incident was due to a family dispute.
However, in a news conference on Sunday, Geagea said she asked the Bersawi family to head to Besharri and hand over the suspected killer Bersawi. “The law must take its course … we didn’t want to provoke anyone and this is why we will offer our condolences to the Saleh family at the right time,” she said.
On Saturday, Franjieh lashed out at LF head Samir Geagea and described him as “a criminal who seeks blood and strife.”
“I won’t urge people to practice self-control anymore like I did in the past and I urge the state to practice this role,” Franjieh said in a news conference.
He also apologized from all his supporters who he had repeatedly urged to restrain themselves against LF provocations in the past. “I ask the state to protect the people because it’s not my duty to protect them; it’s the duty of security forces. We live in a state of law and of institutions,” he added.
The rivalry between the Marada and the LF dates back to the 1975-90 Civil War when militiamen from the right-wing Phalange Party, headed by Samir Geagea, murdered Franjieh’s father Tony, his mother Vera and his 4-year-old sister Jihane in the northern mountainous village of Ehden in 1978.
Franjieh said reconciliation with Geagea was no longer possible and described him as an “instigator of strife.”
The Marada Movement leader said Geagea’s allies, especially Premier Saad Hariri and other officials, should consider they were dealing with “a convicted criminal seeking to dominate the Christian community.”
Franjieh explained that the LF have long been provocative, adding that LF supporters always incited trouble with other Christian parties.
On Saturday, Geagea’s wife and Besharri MP Strida refused to comment on Franjieh’s accusations. She asked the Lebanese to be witnesses to the role played by her husband on the national political scene and to the role of the LF.
Meanwhile, Head of the Independence Movement Michel Mouawad said he refused to politicize the incident and warned of allowing “instincts to play a role in a sensitive region such as the north and Zghorta.”
“We were very surprised of what we heard during Franjieh’s news conference because he took the incident out of its context,” said Mouawad on Saturday. Mouawad, who backs the list running against the Marada Movement in the northern town of Zghorta, stressed that the incident was “of a personal nature.”
“Why this insistence to use a personal matter to revive tensions with the LF?” He asked.
Nonetheless, Mouawad condemned the murders and rejected solving disputes outside the authority of the sate.
“All of us, regardless of our political affiliation, should reject this method because personal vengeance, disputes leading to blood, and wasting the blood of the Lebanese is unacceptable,” he added.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir also denounced the murder during his Sunday sermon and regretted that Christians would resort to killing each other.
He described the affair as an “unforgivable sin.”
The bodies of the two victims were laid to rest in Dahr al-Ain on Saturday and prayers were held at the local Saint Josef Church in the presence of State Minister Youssef Saade, Tony Franjieh representing his father MP Suleiman Franjieh and MP Emile Rahme.
In light of the Dahr al-Ain murder, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud headed an extraordinary session of the Internal Security Forces Council at the ministry Saturday. Following the meeting he announced that the north Lebanon polls would be held as scheduled with reinforced security measures.
The council stressed that it would not be lenient with security violators and announced that four suspects in the incidents have been detained. Investigations will be pursued and the suspects will be questioned before being transferred to judicial authorities, a statement following the meeting said.
Meanwhile, responses to Franjieh’s stance kept on emerging and LF MP Antoine Zahra underlined that Franjieh used a family incident to launch a campaign against the LF.
Future Movement MP Ammar Houri, meanwhile, criticized Franjieh for accusing Hariri of dealing with a criminal because, according to him, Franjieh himself had “suspicious” political allies.
The Future Movement MP talked during an interview broadcasted by the state-run television station Tele Liban and he refused “all attempts to hint in certain directions because they did not serve the ambiance of calm we are seeking.”