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MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
07:35 AM Beirut time
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Harb calls for stronger support to Lebanese Army
File - MP Butros Harb speaks during a press conference at his residence in Hazmieh, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
File - MP Butros Harb speaks during a press conference at his residence in Hazmieh, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: Independent MP Butros Harb said an attack on the Army over the weekend in Sidon occurred because there are certain individuals who have a vested interest in seeing the collapse of the Lebanese state.

“The logical explanation for an attack on the military is that it was done by a person who doesn’t want a legitimate military institution and wants to make room for an illegitimate power to overtake the Army,” Harb said in a sit-down interview with The Daily Star Monday.

The Army said in a statement that three men approached a checkpoint at the Sidon Awali Bridge Sunday night, prompting soldiers to ask for their ID. One of the men reportedly lunged toward a soldier, waving a hand grenade. The soldier swiftly responded by opening fire, causing the grenade to explode, killing the attacker and wounding two soldiers.

Another group of men similarly attacked another checkpoint in the southern town of Majdalyoun about 45 minutes later.

Harb said the fact that the Army engaged in a fight with armed men that killed a number of them would create resentment, saying these kinds of incidents ultimately led to the clashes in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared and in the Sidon suburb of Abra.

The Army and members of the Fatah al-Islam movement in Nahr al-Bared clashed heavily for nearly three months in 2007. In June, gunmen loyal to Salafist Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir attacked an Army checkpoint in Sidon, which claimed the lives of 40.

“There is an operation aimed at weakening and toppling the Army,” Harb said.

He said that with the deteriorating security situation and instability in Lebanon, support for the Army might appear as though it were unified, adding that in reality this was far from the truth.

“In reality it is not, so every militia and every weapon outside the legitimacy of the state is [being kept] under the pretext of resistance or nonresistance, so how can we ask the Army to suppress that violation?” he asked.

Harb used the example of Hisham Salman, head of the student chapter of the Lebanese Option Party who was killed protesting Hezbollah’s role in Syria outside the Iranian Embassy in June. The killing occurred in the presence of the Army. Soldiers were unable to act at the time and stood on the sidelines.

According to Harb, such instances of inaction make the Army appear vulnerable to assault.

The former minister also said the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon could be much worse.

“I have a feeling that there is some kind of local, even regional, understanding that Lebanon should not implode and should stay as it is, or else, in my opinion, it would have blown up [a long time ago],” he said.

Harb also said, however, that Lebanon had never experienced a worse political situation, claiming that its political values had vanished and personal interests were outweighing public ones.

“There is no sense of responsibility,” he said, referring to those in power.

Asked whether political fragmentation of the Christian sect contributed to the current situation, Harb said that it was natural for Christians to have different opinions within the community.

He also said that some individuals in power were set on imposing their views in order to achieve their goals and the state could only achieve stability once the Constitution was upheld by all and the weapons in the nation fell under the supervision of the state.

Concerning the presidential elections, Harb told The Daily Star that President Michel Sleiman was “honest in saying he did not want to extend his own term,” although some believe this could be a viable solution, taking into consideration the current political situation.

The next presidential elections are set for May 2014, and Sleiman has repeatedly said he is against extending his term and that he would challenge such a proposal.

The deepening political deadlock in Lebanon has nevertheless raised concerns that a presidential election might not be held on time.

But Harb said he did not believe that an extension of the president’s term would be a solution.

“Our responsibility entails respecting the provisions of the Constitution, and I personally have a principled stand against amending the Constitution, despite my excellent relationship with President Sleiman, and even raising the option of extension merely because an alternative solution [could not be found], as though this would authorize us to violate the Constitution,” he said.

Harb added that the president needed to take a political position particularly at this time as the country “has become a desert.”

He said failure to hold presidential elections on time would affirm that there was a crisis in the country.

Harb criticized Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem’s comment made over the weekend that if the president were to form a Cabinet that didn’t win a confidence vote in the Parliament, it could not perform ministerial duties.

“I don’t understand this theory that contradicts all of our understanding and our traditions, and all our constitutional rulings; it is nonsensical,” Harb said.

Harb said that Hezbollah could be planning to refuse to hand over ministries if a fait accompli government were formed.

Harb warned this would be a “coup against the Constitution and against the Republic, and it would have dangerous repercussions on the country.”

“There is a Constitution, let us all respect it and stop abusing it for our own interests.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2013, on page 3.
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