Lebanon News

Riyadh seeking to derail Syria peace talks: Nasrallah

Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah speaks via a video link during a ceremony in Beirut's southern suburbs, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Monday accused Saudi Arabia of seeking to derail the expected Geneva II Syria peace conference, saying the kingdom had become enraged over what he claimed to be regime-strengthening developments in the conflict-ridden Arab state.

Nasrallah also blamed Riyadh for Lebanon’s failure to form a new government and urged the March 14 coalition to accept a Cabinet lineup which would give rival groups veto power.

“The world has come to an understanding that a military solution [in Syria] is no longer valid and the only acceptable solution is a political one via an unconditional dialogue,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Al-Rassoul al-Azam Hospital.

“But there is one country, ... the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and it is still very angry over the prospects of a political solution in Syria,” he said.

Nasrallah said the kingdom had exhausted all available means to force the collapse of President Bashar Assad’s regime, such as sending tens of thousands of fighters and spending an estimated $30 billion.

“The opposite side did all it can to target the regime and bring it down but failed to reach any results,” he said.

The prospects of a military solution subsided, Nasrallah said, in light of divisions within the Syrian opposition and the rebels, the Syrian army’s recapture of several areas and the collapse of a possible U.S.-led attack on the war-torn country.

“The stubbornness and insistence on [a military solution] will only lead to further fighting, casualties and destruction as well as repercussions on neighboring countries,” Nasrallah said.

He also advised Saudi Arabia not to pass up the opportunity for peace talks in Geneva II, noting that time was not on the opposition’s side.

“Given the current developments, it is best that you go forward with a political solution in Syria,” he said.

The Hezbollah leader also lashed out at Saudi Arabia for allegedly putting pressure on caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati not to convene a Cabinet session to address oil-related issues and the security situation in the country, particularly the clashes in the northern city of Tripoli.

“Most of the ministers agree that the Cabinet should convene ... but the prime minister is hesitant because there has been mounting political pressure on him since the day he resigned,” Nasrallah noted, saying he wished those for whom Mikati resigned would recipricate the caretaker prime minister's loyalty.

Mikati resigned on March 22 over disputes within his Cabinet, including a disagreement regarding the extension of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi’s term as the head of the Internal Security Forces. Hezbollah had opposed the extension.

“There is pressure [on Mikati] from Saudi [Arabia] making it forbidden for the caretaker Cabinet to function, as well as pressure from the Future Movement and the March 14 coalition on the [caretaker] prime minister,” Nasrallah said.

He urged the president and Mikati to call for a Cabinet session and for “political forces outside the government to decrease such pressure.”

Mikati has voiced opposition to convening a session over pending oil decrees, arguing that there is no clear consensus among his March 8-dominated caretaker Cabinet to do so.

Nasrallah also touched on the stalled Cabinet formation process under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, voicing his party’s support for a 9-9-6 lineup.

Such a formula, which the Future Movement has rejected, would grant both the March 14 and the March 8 groups veto power.

The Hezbollah chief reiterated his party’s criticism of March 14, saying the western-backed coalition is linking the formation of a new Cabinet with the outcome of the Syrian crisis.

Addressing his rivals, Nasrallah said: “Stop postponing and stop derailing the formation because the circumstances [in Syria] are only changing in favor of the other team.”

March 14 has called for a neutral Cabinet of nonpartisan ministers while the Future Movement has said it would only join National Dialogue sessions in the presence of a new government.

The coalition has also refused to attend Parliament in the presence of a caretaker government and its MPs have failed to show up for several legislative sessions.

“The country can no longer tolerate disruptions but if a government based on the 9-9-6 lineup is formed, the tensions would lessen and we would have a place to sit and discuss our issues,” Nasrallah said.

“Be humble, just as we were when we suggested the 9-9-6 formula and accept it,” he said, referring to Hezbollah’s proposal to share veto power.

Salam, who was named prime minister-designate in April, has been struggling to form a new government in the context of conditions and counter-conditions issued by the rival political groups.

Nasrallah also said that the caretaker Cabinet should convene to discuss the volatile security situation in Tripoli, where deadly clashes have been ongoing for the past week. He added that residents of the northern city need to assist the Army in order to end the fighting.

At least 16 people have been killed and over 80 people wounded in the latest bout of violence between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Any measures the Army takes should be supported and backed so that it can deploy in all areas and neighborhoods ... [people should] not burn tires to prevent the military from entering,” Nasrallah said, referring to residents of the Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood who used burning tires to close the area's roads to Army patrols.

“We should call on the Army and the state to intervene rather than calling on ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria] and the Nusra Front ... because they really don’t bring security or peace to areas they go to,” he added.

Nasrallah said the by enabling the state and its military and security forces, toning down rhetoric and taking a solid political stance it should be possible to end the violence in Tripoli.

The Hezbollah chief also spoke about the recent discovery of explosive-rigged vehicles in Lebanon, saying the state failed in adopting preemptive measures to prevent the bombings.

Lebanon has been rocked by four car bombs in the past three months: two in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, and twin attacks in Tripoli targeting mosques and Salafist sheikhs.

Preliminary investigations linked the Tripoli bombings to Syrian intelligence and a pro-Assad Lebanese party.

“The state knows about these cells and the locations of rigged vehicles ... but it has not done anything yet,” Nasrallah said.

He added that it was the responsibility of the state to prevent the bombings, arrest the perpetrators and punish them regardless of their affiliations.





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