BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri Tuesday pleaded with the ambassadors of the Big Five powers for an airlift to quickly provide the Lebanese Army with military assistance to help it in the battle against terrorism.
U.S. Ambassador David Hale also called for Lebanese unity and the swift election of a new president to face threats posed to the country’s stability by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and other Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.
Berri summoned the envoys of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China – and U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly to brief them on “the dangers threatening Lebanon as a result of what had happened and is happening in the Arsal region by terrorist groups.”
He urged the envoys to rapidly provide military assistance for the Lebanese Army and security forces to help them in the battle against terrorism following deadly clashes with gunmen from ISIS and Al-Nusra Front in the northeastern town of Arsal earlier this month.
On his meeting with the envoys of the Big Five held at his residence in Ain al-Tineh, Berri was quoted by visitors as saying: “I have told the ambassadors that there are many issues to discuss with you like the presidential election and Syrian refugees ... but I will be content with one issue: the Lebanese Army and equipping it according to lists presented by the Army commander on the military establishment’s needs.”
Berri emphasized that routine procedures should be overcome to quickly airlift weapons to the Army. “I am calling for establishing an airlift [to send arms] to the Army because it is fighting a battle against terrorism. This is the main reason for requesting the meeting,” he said.
Following Berri’s remarks, the envoys affirmed their support for providing the Army with weapons.
Berri telephoned former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and asked him to quickly put into effect last year’s Saudi $3 billion grant and another Saudi $1 billion grant this month to shore up the capabilities of the Lebanese Army and security forces.
For his part, Hale called for Lebanese unity and the quick election of a president to face threats posed by ISIS and other militant groups.
“I want to express our full confidence in the Lebanese government and its security institutions as they face the challenges spilling over from the conflict in Syria,” Hale told reporters after the meeting with Berri.
“There is no doubt that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other extremist groups seek to sow division and chaos in the region, and this poses a threat to Lebanon,” he said. “This is the extremists’ strategy because only amid chaos do they have a chance to succeed.”
Hale said the obvious answer to the extremists’ threat was order, determination and unity. “Unity within Lebanon, and unity with Lebanon’s friends such as the United States. That was my message to Speaker Berri today,” he said. “America stands united with Lebanon to counter extremism and promote moderation.” Hale, however, emphasized that Lebanese unity was still lacking with the country remaining without a president. “But without a president, the full unity needed to meet Lebanon’s challenges is missing. The president is the symbol of the unity of the country,” Hale said.
“Extremists can only gain as a result. The process and choice of a president is for only the Lebanese, but Lebanon’s leaders must swiftly create the conditions to elect a president, for the sake of Lebanon’s unity and stability.”
The parliamentary Future bloc said confronting “extremism and terrorism” threatening Lebanon can be done only through supporting the state and its institutions, particularly the Army and security forces.
The bloc reiterated its demand for securing the release of military and security personnel held hostage by Islamist militants. It also renewed its call for priority to be given to the election of a new president.
“The election of a new president is at the top of priorities in this stage in order to safeguard Lebanon,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Referring to a draft proposal presented to Parliament MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote, the bloc said it did not see in the proposal an “appropriate solution” for the presidential deadlock.
The FPM’s draft proposal has evoked harsh criticisms from Aoun’s Christian rivals, the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces.
However, Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc upheld the proposal, saying that it was still waiting for the parties’ responses to “a salvation initiative.”
“We are still waiting for objective and scientific answers to the constitutional amendment proposal presented by the bloc’s lawmakers,” the bloc said in a statement following its weekly meeting chaired by Aoun.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem voiced hope that a thaw in strained Saudi-Iranian relations would reflect positively on regional conflicts. “I hope that [resumption of] Saudi-Iranian relations is a good beginning that will expand and lead to understandings,” Qassem told a memorial ceremony south of Beirut. “If these positive relations moved forward, they would help in solving many of the region’s problems.”
His comments came as Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held what he called a “positive and constructive” meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh Tuesday as the two regional rivals seek to counter Islamist militants in Iraq.