BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc launched a scathing verbal attack Friday on the government’s policy statement, saying it put Lebanon in a confrontation with the international community and amounted to a coup against a U.N.-backed court probing the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri.
The statement issued after the bloc’s extraordinary meeting said Future MPs would not grant the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati their vote of confidence and announced their opposition to “this policy which serves the interest of the criminals.”
The statement came a day after the Cabinet approved its policy statement and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued its long-awaited indictment and arrest warrants against four Hezbollah members accused of involvement in Hariri’s assassination.
In what was viewed by Future and March 14 MPs as a vague policy statement on the STL, the government said: “Our government respects international resolutions, thus it is keen to reveal and expose the truth regarding the crime of the assassination of martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his companions.
The government will follow the path of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon which was initially established to achieve righteousness and justice, without politicization or revenge, and without any negative impact on Lebanon’s stability, unity and civil peace.”
The Future bloc’s meeting, chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, discussed various developments, especially the confirmation of the indictment by the STL’s Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen. “The expression ‘follow the path of the STL’ according to this text means practically that the government has evaded Lebanon’s commitments in this regard,” the bloc said in a statement read to reporters by Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara.
“What the government mentioned in its policy statement amounted to dragging Lebanon into the trap of deepening internal divisions and confronting the international community, as well as harming the right of the Lebanese people to justice, dignity and freedom. This has justified the fears we have expressed from the first moment Prime Minister Najib Mikati was designated to form the government.”
Recalling the bloc’s warning to Mikati against evading Lebanon’s commitments to the STL, the statement said, “The Future bloc considers what was mentioned in the [policy] statement was tantamount to a coup against the tribunal, justice and the right of the martyrs.
The government practically places itself in the position of the accused in this matter, instead of taking the initiative and being the first to support the tribunal’s work and to underline Lebanon’s commitment to help in punishing the criminals.”
“Therefore, the bloc will withhold confidence from the government and announces from now on its opposition to this policy which serves the interest of criminals, and not the cause of martyrs, nor the interest of Lebanon.”
The statement greatly welcomed the STL’s release of the indictment, saying it moved Lebanon into a new stage of its history. “This indictment is a new assertion by the international community that Lebanon is a free, sovereign and independent state, and not a state that is subject to killings and assassinations without any punishment or accountability,” it said.
The Future bloc said the indictment was not a verdict, but an accusation. “The accused retains the presumption of innocence until proven guilty or innocent. The indictment targets the accused person and doesn’t include his family, community or party,” it said.
Hariri and March 14 leaders have praised the indictment’s release and urged the government to fully cooperate with the STL, including the implementation of arrest warrants.
In sharp contrast, Hezbollah and March 8 leaders, who reject the STL, have kept silent on the indictment. Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish refused to comment when contacted by The Daily Star Friday, saying party leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah would outline Hezbollah’s position on the indictment in a speech to be broadcast by Al-Manar television at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the vice-president of the Higher Shiite Council, accused the STL of serving political purposes.
“The international tribunal is politicized. It is not divine and there are suspicions around it. Why don’t we choose qualified and Lebanese judges?” Qabalan said in Friday’s sermon.
He congratulated the Lebanese for riding out the crisis over the indictment calmly and wisely, and called on rival factions to ward off the threat of strife.
“Thank God, the announcement of the indictment passed quietly. But we should search for the just and fair truth [in Hariri’s assassination] …We have to protect Lebanon from strife and disasters surrounding us,” Qabalan said. “We want the revelation of the truth in martyr Rafik Hariri’s assassination. We want the truth based on hard evidence.”
For his part, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi said the Lebanese authorities have received the indictment, which came in “the framework of the government’s commitment to U.N. resolutions and its keenness on revealing the truth” in Hariri’s assassination.
“A new page has opened in the course of this case which concerns all segments of the Lebanese people who are keen on achieving justice just like they are keen on civil peace and stability,” Safadi said in a statement.
Beirut’s Future MP Atef Majdalani warned that if the government did not show seriousness in dealing with the STL, the March 14 parties would launch a battle to topple it. “The March 14 parties will carry out steps to support the indictment,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly met Mikati Friday to discuss bilateral ties. It was Connelly’s second meeting with Mikati since he formed a 30-member Cabinet on June 13.