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Hariri hands out invites to Army iftar

Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, left, receives MP Bahia Hariri, in Beirut, Monday, July 29, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Sidon MP Bahia Hariri handed invitations Monday to a number of Lebanese politicians and religious figures for an iftar event that she will hold to honor the Army this weekend.

Sources close to Hariri said the ceremony was aimed at affirming the strong ties between Hariri and the military establishment, particularly after the June clashes between the Army and supporters of firebrand Sheikh Ahmad Assir in a suburb of Sidon. The event is due to be held Saturday at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center.

Hariri visited Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, Beirut Maronite Bishop Boulos Matar, deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, and General Security’s director-general, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.

Hariri will continue handing out invitations for the iftar event in the coming days.

A source close to Hariri said the lawmaker was hosting the iftar to thwart attempts to mar relations between the lawmaker and the Army after the fighting in Sidon’s Abra.

“MP Bahia Hariri was accused by some groups of launching a campaign against the Army [after the clashes]. This event aims at highlighting the good ties that exist between her and the Army, which were never severed,” the source, who requested to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star.

March 8 groups, in particular Hezbollah, accused Hariri and the Future Movement of challenging the Army after she and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the head of the Future parliamentary bloc, asked for clarification over the resistance party’s reported participation in the fighting.

The Future Movement has dismissed the claims, stressing it fully supports the Army, and that it only sought to obtain all the facts about Abra.

At least 18 soldiers and dozens of gunmen loyal to Assir were killed in fighting that erupted after the sheikh’s supporters opened fire on an Army checkpoint in Abra, killing several soldiers. Assir whereabouts currently remain unknown.

Footage soon went viral on YouTube showing Hezbollah fighters taking part in the battle alongside the Army.

The source said Hariri was already planning to organize a ceremony to mark Army Day, which falls Thursday.

He said President Michel Sleiman was also invited to the iftar event, as was Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the heads of various political parties and religious figures in the country.

“No one from Hezbollah was invited, as the ties between the Future Movement and Hezbollah are very strained,” the source said.

The source added it was unlikely that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani would be invited. Qabbani and the Future Movement have been at odds for a number of years.

Speaking after visiting Bishop Matar, Hariri voiced hope that various Lebanese political groups would agree to support state institutions as a guarantor of stability in the country.

“I invited the bishop to the iftar, which I am holding to honor the Army, as a citizen, on the occasion of Army Day,” she said, referring to Bishop, whom she thanked for visiting Sidon after the clashes.

“I take this opportunity to thank Bishop Boulos Matar for his visit to Sidon, with a delegation of bishops sent [to the city] by Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rai after the painful events which passed to express national solidarity,” Hariri added. The lawmaker said she also discussed various domestic concerns with Matar.

Hariri also said she backed the extension of the mandate of Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi’s mandate, who has also been invited to the iftar.

“Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was the first to express his support for this move. We support him and stability,” Hariri said.

A source from the Higher Shiite Council told The Daily Star that the meeting between Hariri and Qabalan, one of the many figures she handed an invitation to, was positive.

“This place is open to visitors from all sides,” he said.

The source praised Hariri’s efforts to defuse Sunni-Shiite tensions in Sidon in wake of the Abra clashes.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 30, 2013, on page 3.

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