BEIRUT: Some clandestine groups will attempt to destabilize the country ahead of the trials of suspects allegedly involved in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and other crucial issues, including next year’s presidential election, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Friday.
“There are columns seeking to undermine the security situation in Lebanon. The next six months are difficult at the security level for Lebanon,” Charbel told The Daily Star in response to a question as to whether he feared security incidents in Lebanon when the trials of suspects in Hariri’s assassination begin next month.
The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has scheduled Jan. 16, 2014 as the date for the start of trials of four Hezbollah members indicted in Hariri’s killing. A fifth Hezbollah member was also indicted in the case by the STL in August.
The STL is tasked with uncovering those involved in the massive suicide truck bombing that targeted Hariri’s motorcade on Feb. 14, 2005, killing him and 22 others.
Charbel declined to name those “columns,” but stressed that they were under surveillance by Lebanese security agencies. He said that the “fifth column,” jargon often used by rival Lebanese politicians to blame perpetrators involved in security incidents, had always sought to undermine security.
“Lebanese security agencies are on full alert to thwart attempts aimed at destabilizing the country. Precautionary measures have been taken to face any contingency situation,” Charbel said.
He added that the STL’s trials were among crucial events over the next six months that could have repercussions on security and stability. The other events include: the Lebanese presidential election scheduled in May 2014, deep political differences among Lebanese leaders, parliamentary elections, the election of a new Sunni mufti, and the election of a new president in Syria.
Lebanon has been rattled by a spate of car bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the northern city of Tripoli recently that killed nearly 80 people and wounded over 500, in incidents directly linked to the 32-month war in neighboring Syria.
The security situation was further shaken with the Dec. 3 assassination of a senior Hezbollah commander, Hassan Hawlo al-Lakkis, by unidentified gunmen outside his home south of Beirut, and last month’s suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Embassy, killing 30 people and wounding over 150.
Meanwhile, the Future Movement launched a scathing verbal attack on Speaker Nabih Berri for saying that the 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal was the only choice to break the eight-month Cabinet deadlock and that the movement accepted it.
In remarks published by Al-Joumhouria newspaper Friday, Berri said: “Under the prevailing situation, the only choice left is the formation of a 9-9-6 Cabinet or a return to the Dialogue table.” He added that President Michel Sleiman and MP Walid Jumblatt supported this Cabinet formula and even some members in the Future Movement also backed it.
MP Ammar Houri from the parliamentary Future bloc denied that his bloc supported the 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal.
“Our position on the Cabinet formation has not changed. We support the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan government that does not include representatives from the March 8 and March 14 parties,” Houri told The Daily Star.
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat slammed Berri, saying the speaker’s remarks were worse than those of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah on the Cabinet crisis.
“The March 8 concept of [government] participation is very strange. They consider that participation involves only numbers and not in sharing in responsibility and the political decision-making,” Fatfat told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
“Berri’s remarks about the government formation are almost worse than those of Hasan Nasrallah when he threatened [March 14] to adopt the 9-9-6 formula or worse,” Fatfat said.
The Cabinet crisis was discussed during a meeting between Sleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at Baabda Palace.
Separately, Sleiman is expected to visit France early next week to follow up an eye medical treatment after having had a similar treatment at the hands of a French doctor in the United States. The Central News Agency said Sleiman would not meet any French officials during his one-day visit to Paris.