BEIRUT: Last week’s deadly car bombing in Beirut’s southern suburbs has sparked calls from both sides of the political spectrum for national unity and a swift formation of a new Cabinet to face mounting security threats arising from the repercussions of the civil war raging in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon has been rattled recently by a spate of serious security incidents linked to the more than 2-year-old conflict in Syria that threatens to destabilize the politically divided country.
In addition to the car bombing that ripped through the Hezbollah neighborhood of Ruwaiss south of Beirut last Thursday, killing at least 27 people and wounding more than 300, Lebanese authorities arrested Sunday four people suspected of belonging to a car-bombing ring.
The day before security forces seized a car loaded with 250 kilograms of explosives in the coastal town of Naameh, south of Beirut.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is believed to be taking the fast-moving security developments into consideration with a view to accelerating the formation of a new Cabinet.
“Prime Minister-designate Salam is pursuing his efforts to form the Cabinet, taking into account the latest [security] developments,” a source close to Salam told The Daily Star. “Salam is in constant contact with President Michel Sleiman in this regard for the good of everyone and the nation,” he said.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other leaders said the formation of a new Cabinet embracing all the political parties is needed to deal with the security challenges facing the country. Mikati’s Cabinet has been in a caretaker capacity since he resigned on March 22.
Salam’s attempts to set up a government of rival politicians have foundered on conditions and counter-conditions set by the March 8 and March 14 camps, prompting calls from the March 14 coalition for the formation of a neutral or fait accompli Cabinet.
“The political crisis and polarization, coupled with the paralysis in the constitutional institutions, have reached a very dangerous limit that calls on all leaders to return to dialogue, which is indispensable in order to overcome this difficult stage in the region,” Mikati said in a statement at his residence in the northern city of Tripoli, which has been rocked by off-and-on deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“It is not useful to trade accusations about the responsibility for the country reaching this situation. In my view, the beginning of a solution lies in speeding up the formation of an all-embracing Cabinet to be followed by the resumption of National Dialogue on all issues without prior conditions,” he added.
Mikati implicitly criticized Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, saying: “How can Lebanon’s interest be served by involving ourselves in regional conflicts or betting on regional changes?” He reiterated his call on the rival Lebanese factions to comply with his government’s self-declared disassociation policy on developments in Syria.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai demanded the formation of “a new Cabinet as soon as possible” to protect the country against security threats.
He also called for supporting the Lebanese Army and security forces in their difficult task to maintain security and stability.
Addressing rival political leaders, Rai said in a sermon at the Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in the town of Ashquout, north of Beirut: “You have no right to leave Lebanon in a waiting room and a hostage of political and sectarian calculations until the situation in Syria has settled down.”
For its part, Hezbollah renewed its demand for the formation of a national unity government in which all parties are represented in proportion to the size of their representation in Parliament.
MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, said that delay in the Cabinet formation would increase political tensions and push the country toward chaos and instability.
“The only way to form an appropriate government which can act responsibly to prevent a [power] vacuum in this sensitive and delicate moment through which Lebanon is passing is through national unity, national unanimity or national integration,” Raad told a rally in the southern town of Hanaway.
He called for all influential political parties, “which have a serious and genuine representation in Parliament,” to be included in “an all-embracing national government that can move Lebanon from a state of crisis and tensions to a state of searching for realistic and serious solutions.”
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah said the growing concern for the country’s civil peace, stability and unity required the formation of a national unity government to carry out its security, political and economic responsibilities.
Referring to the bombing in the southern suburbs, he said at a graduation ceremony in the southern town of Sultaniyeh: “Despite all this malice, hatred and education on killings and crimes we have witnessed, we need today a national unity government that reflects a genuine representation, unites the country, works to ward off dangers and tries to defuse tensions.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt reiterated his call for an all-embracing Cabinet that prioritizes the interests of citizens.
“We call again for the formation of a Cabinet of national interest with the participation of all factions,” Jumblatt said in a speech read on his behalf by former PSP secretary-general Sharif Fayyad at a news conference in the mountain town of Aley.
He warned that the continued power vacuum would disrupt people’s affairs and hamper solutions to the country’s worsening socio-economic problems.
The PSP chief also renewed his call for National Dialogue between the March 8 and March 14 parties to resolve the deepening political and economic crises.
“We will not back off from dialogue. We will not back off from adherence to civil peace no matter what the price is. We will not retreat from stability,” Jumblatt said.
The bloc of Zahle’s March 14 MPs condemned the Ruwaiss bombing and urged the formation of “a salvation government” as soon as possible to serve as “a safety valve” for the country in the face of security threats.
The MPs called on the Lebanese in a statement after their meeting in the eastern city to show “vigilance and responsibility and cooperate with security forces in order to overcome this difficult stage.”
Sleiman has indicated that if a government embracing all the political parties could not be formed, the alternative is a neutral Cabinet.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have warned against forming a neutral or a fait accompli Cabinet.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun has accused Sleiman and Salam of seeking to form a one-sided, fait accompli Cabinet and warned that such a government would lead Lebanon to ruin.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has also warned that forming a fait accompli government would be a “big mistake” for the country.
The March 14 coalition, which has demanded a neutral, nonpartisan government, has rejected Hezbollah’s participation in the Cabinet before it withdraws its fighters from Syria.