BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman indirectly hit back at President Bashar Assad Tuesday after the Syrian leader accused Beirut of igniting the fire in his war-torn country by allowing “terrorists” to infiltrate into Syria from Lebanese territory.
Taking an indirect swipe at Assad, whose ties with Sleiman have been strained since Lebanese authorities uncovered last year a terror plot linked to Syrian intelligence to destabilize Lebanon, the Lebanese president defended the country’s policy of disassociation, saying no one had the right to criticize the stance.
“The policy to neutralize Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, which was embodied in the Baabda Declaration, is something we are proud of and it can be decided only by the Lebanese,” Sleiman said at a ceremony inaugurating an expansion project at Beirut Port.
“No one can criticize Lebanon’s disassociation policy.”
Sleiman’s remarks came a day after Assad scoffed at Lebanon’s self-proclaimed disassociation policy on the Syrian crisis, saying that “terrorists” were sneaking into Syria regardless.
“The fact is that Lebanon did not distance itself,” Assad said during a wide-ranging interview with the Lebanon-based Pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Mayadeen aired Monday.
“In fact, Lebanon contributed directly toward igniting the fire in Syria by allowing terrorists and arms to cross into Syria through the Lebanese-Syrian borders. So, practically there was no self-disassociation.”
He also accused some Lebanese factions, whom he did not name, of “incitement” against his regime. Assad said the repercussions of the conflict in Syria were directly affecting the situation in Lebanon.
The Lebanese government has adopted a disassociation policy on the crisis in Syria based on the Baabda Declaration, which was endorsed by the rival March 8 and March 14 leaders during a National Dialogue session chaired by Sleiman at Baabda Palace in June 2012.
The declaration calls for “keeping Lebanon away from regional and international conflicts and sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises,” particularly the war in Syria.
However, the declaration has sparked a row between the March 8 and 14 camps, with MP Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, recently saying that the declaration was “stillborn.”
The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have accused Hezbollah of violating the declaration with its military intervention in Syria on the side of Assad’s forces.
The parliamentary Future bloc blasted remarks attributed to Assad in which he said that the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood in the northern city of Tripoli was a Syrian area.
Assad’s remarks are “an escalation of the [Syrian] regime’s intervention in Lebanon’s internal affairs,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting.
“ Jabal Mohsen is part of Tripoli and its security is part of the city’s security and the security of all the Lebanese.
“The Syrian regime must desist from inciting its groups and arming them and sending explosives to kill innocent people in the city.”
Assad’s supporters and opponents in the Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhoods have often clashed, leaving several people dead. Residents in the largely Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood support Assad, while those in the predominantly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district back the uprising against the regime.
In the Al-Mayadeen interview, Assad also addressed the case of former MP Michel Samaha, who was charged last year with plotting terror explosions in Lebanon in coordination with Syrian officials.
“I am also still waiting for evidence [from Sleiman] about Syria’s involvement in the case of Michel Samaha in which Syria was falsely accused,” Assad said in response to a question on whether he would contact Sleiman to provide clarifications on the case.
When Samaha’s case was brought to light last year, Sleiman said that Assad should contact him and clarify the accusations against Syria in this case.
Samaha, a longtime ally of the Syrian leadership, Syrian intelligence official Ali Mamlouk and a Syrian officer were charged by a Lebanese military judge last year with plotting terrorist attacks and assassinations in Lebanon.
Assad’s remarks drew a tough response from former Internal Security Forces chief Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who said the Syrian leader’s request for evidence about Samaha’s involvement in a terror plot ran contrary to logic.
“I was not surprised with what the head of the Syrian regime Bashar Assad said in a TV interview. He tried to cast doubts about the plot of Michel Samaha and Ali Mamlouk to destabilize Lebanon on orders of the Syrian regime’s security bodies by demanding evidence about Samaha’s involvement in this terrorist crime,” Rifi said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
“This behavior, to which the [Syrian] regime has been accustomed in all major security issues it committed in Lebanon and Syria, is based on killing the victim and attending his funeral, in addition to playing the role of the investigator and judge in the crime with a view to covering it up and hiding those responsible for it,” he added.
Citing Samaha’s frank confessions to the investigator about his alleged role in the plot to destabilize Lebanon on Mamlouk’s orders, Rifi said: “Assad’s remarks amount to an insult to logic.”