BEIRUT: Lebanon will refer Friday’s assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah to the Justice Council, officials said over the weekend, as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the formation of an inclusive Cabinet to end the political impasse.
The move to refer Shatah’s case was announced following a session of the Higher Defense Council Saturday chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace in the wake of the assassination.
“The council was briefed by the caretaker justice minister and acting state prosecutor on the preliminary investigation [into Shatah’s killing] and asked the caretaker justice minister to make the needed legal preparations to refer explosions which occurred recently to the Justice Council,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir, the secretary general of the Higher Defense Council, told reporters after the session.
“The council stressed its will to go ahead with confronting all terrorist attempts against Lebanon,” he said.
Kheir added that the council was briefed by heads of security agencies on the information available on Shatah’s assassination along with additional information on previous attacks.
“The council stressed the need for security forces to coordinate and continue to take measures on the ground along with intelligence efforts to thwart attempts to commit such crimes in order to preserve order and protect people, establishments and public and private property,” Kheir said.
He added that the council made the appropriate decisions and issued the relevant instructions while keeping its decisions secret in line with law.
The death toll from the Friday blast that killed Shatah, his bodyguard, and four others rose to seven Saturday after a teenager seriously wounded in the attack succumbed to his wounds Saturday morning, a security source said.
Shatah, a former finance minister, was seen as a moderate figure in the March 14 coalition and the Sunni community.
The explosion was the latest among a serious of bomb attacks that have targeted several areas across the country throughout the year, killing and wounding hundreds.
Mikati, who proclaimed Sunday a day of mourning, said that the referral would take place under exceptional decrees issued by him and Sleiman.
Crimes targeting the state’s security are referred to the Justice Council. Its decisions cannot be appealed.
Speaking to reporters after attending the meeting of the Higher Defense Council, Mikati called on politicians to avoid bickering and trading accusations.
“Restoring confidence between Lebanese factions has become a pressing priority because if the current schism lingers along with conditions and counter-conditions, this will lead us all to death,” he warned.
Mikati reiterated calls for resuming National Dialogue, forming an inclusive government and adhering to the dissociation policy from the war in neighboring Syria.
“Our actual wager is on the wisdom of Lebanese leaders and their awareness of the dangers of the phase and their efforts to prevent flare-up through toning down political rhetoric,” Mikati said.
Meanwhile, senior politicians flocked to Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in Downtown Beirut for the second day to pay condolences to Shatah’s family.
Among those paying their respects were Sleiman, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and a delegation of MPs from MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc.
Speaking to reporters after paying his condolences, Siniora reiterated the March 14’s call for the formation of a non-partisan government to address the pressing needs of the Lebanese and referring divisive issues to the National Dialogue table.
“There are several issues such as Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, its arms and other things that should be referred to the [National] Dialogue table,” Siniora said.
“It is true that we reached no result in Dialogue since it was launched in 2006 as we agreed on several issues but none have been implemented,” Siniora said.
He explained that Hezbollah reneged on its support for the Baabda Declaration agreed upon by rival political factions during a Dialogue session in June 2012. The pact calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly in Syria.
However, earlier in the year, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah acknowledged fighters from his group were in Syria fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against Syrian rebels.
“But despite this, we believe that we should adopt the path of Dialogue. Our approach is peaceful and political rather than violent in the first place,” Siniora said.
For his part, Jumblatt highlighted the need to adhere to Dialogue in order to avoid strife in the country.
“We stress the path of moderation and Dialogue regardless of difficulties and the pain of his [Shatah’s] great loss,” he said.
“We have no other choice, or else we will all fall in the trap set by the game of nations, or that of fighting like what is happening in Iraq, Syria and other Arab countries,” Jumblatt said.