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Nasrallah raises stakes in political standoff
Hezbollah supporters wave flags as they attend a ceremony in Beirut's southern suburbs, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Hezbollah supporters wave flags as they attend a ceremony in Beirut's southern suburbs, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned Friday against forming a fait accompli Cabinet, while prodding the rival political factions to cooperate to avoid a presidential vacuum by electing a new head of state.

He also implicitly accused Saudi Arabia of seeking to destabilize Lebanon in response to what he said was the failure of Riyadh’s plans in Syria, where Hezbollah’s fighters are battling alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces against armed rebels.

Nasrallah accused Israel of being responsible for this month’s assassination of a top Hezbollah commander, Hassan Hawlo al-Lakkis, and vowed to avenge the killing.

In a televised speech at a commemoration ceremony for Lakkis held at a Hezbollah complex in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Nasrallah appeared to reject any bid to extend President Michel Sleiman’s six-year-term in office when it expires on May 25, 2014, by calling for the election of a new president.

“We in Hezbollah categorically reject a vacuum [in the presidency]. The only alternative [to a vacuum] is the election of a president for the post,” Nasrallah said via a video link.

Despite deep national divisions over the 32-month war in Syria, he said the Lebanese had “a historic chance” today and were fully capable with a Lebanese will of electing their president away from foreign influence.

“They have a margin of internal freedom which they did not have in the past because of the regional events,” Nasrallah said, referring to the ongoing war in Syria. “It is important to have a new president in May.”

Nasrallah dismissed March 14’s demand to form a neutral government as an “act of deception.” He warned against a fait accompli government and reiterated March 8 calls for the formation of a national unity Cabinet.

“We still believe in the need for forming an all-embracing national government because a neutral government is a government of deception,” he said.

The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have vowed not to join Hezbollah in a new government before the party withdraws its fighters from Syria and abides by the Baabda Declaration.

Nasrallah also implicitly accused Saudi Arabia of seeking to destabilize Lebanon over its failure in Syria.

“I am concerned that there is someone somewhere in this region who, as a result of his anger, hatred, failure and the closure of [opportunities] in his face, has reached a stage [that he is willing to] push the country toward a [military flare-up],” he said.

Nasrallah vowed Hezbollah would avenge the killing of Lakkis, saying evidence collected by the group indicated Israel was behind the assassination.

“The assassination of Hajj Hassan al-Lakkis is not a passing incident between us and the Israelis and nobody should think that,” he said. “The Israelis think Hezbollah is busy [with Syria’s war] and with the situation in Lebanon ... I tell them: ‘You’re making a mistake.’”

Nasrallah also defended Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, saying that the battle in the neighboring country was existential.

“No matter what the pressure is piled on us, we will not change our position on the Syrian crisis because the battle in Syria in our view is existential, not only for Hezbollah, but also for Syria, Lebanon and Palestine,” he said.

Nasrallah also spoke about his rivals in the March 14 coalition, saying the group had recently adopted a “very dangerous, unprecedented rhetoric,” amounting to “a declaration of war” against Hezbollah.

He was referring to a Future Movement rally in the northern city of Tripoli last Sunday during which Future and March 14 lawmakers blasted Hezbollah, accusing it of seeking to put Lebanon under Iran’s influence.

“March 14 is saying that they will never join a dialogue table with us or form a government with us ... This can be understood as a declaration of war because they did not set a line of retreat,” Nasrallah said. “If this is true, then tell us. We don’t want to go to war with you ... Our battle is with Israel. But no one should play with us.”

Future MP Ahmad Fatfat blasted Nasrallah, saying his remarks amounted to a declaration of war against the March 14 coalition.

“Sayyed Nasrallah’s speech is clearly very serious and in practice is a declaration of war on the March 14 parties,” Fatfat said in a TV interview. He said Nasrallah’s view of the “Tripoli declaration” as a call to war was tantamount to “a takfiri logic” by Hezbollah. “Hezbollah has encouraged the takfiris to come to Lebanon ... We are entering a very dangerous stage,” Fatfat added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 21, 2013, on page 1.
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