Lebanon News

Intense presidency efforts behind scenes

File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives PSP leader Walid Jumblatt in Beirut, Sunday, March 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Ibrahim, HO)

A high profile minister belonging to the March 14 coalition said mobilization to invigorate efforts for the presidential election might lead to positive results in the next parliamentary session set for Sept. 2.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since former President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term ended on May 25. The vacancy in his post has lingered as Parliament has failed several times to adjourn to elect a successor due to lack of quorum and general consensus.

The minister said on condition of anonymity that the rallying was due in part to heightened communication and activity on the part of parliamentary blocs led by the head of the Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt and Speaker Nabih Berri, who speaks for Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

It was also said that Berri has been keeping Hezbollah posted with developments concerning the presidency issue, especially as the alliance between the group and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun remains strong. Former premier Fouad Siniora is also playing an important role regarding the issue.

Berri and Jumblatt have joined forces and efforts to beak the three-month-presidential deadlock.

Over the weekend, both leaders revealed that they are working on a proposal aimed at finding common ground between the different political factions in the presidential file.

However, they refused to disclose any details about the joint proposal.

The success of the rallying efforts done over the presidential file was related to the continued persecution of Christians in Iraq by the Islamic State in Greater Syria and Iraq.

As Lebanon’s Maronite post is threatened by ISIS’ lightening advances, Patriarch Beshara Rai has been pressuring Christian leaders for a political compromise.

Rai will also be visiting the Vatican Wednesday for talks with Pope Francis about the issue as well as the plight of Christians in the region.

The March 14 minister also emphasized that the developments in the region included the visit of a senior Iranian official to Saudi Arabia, another reason to feel optimistic about the current mobilization.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Jeddah Tuesday in attempts to recover tense relation between the two nations.

Though presidential talks are on the right track, triumph depends on Aoun’s agreeing on another candidate, apart from himself. This is crucial because Aoun and Hezbollah’s parliamentary blocs have the ability to secure quorum.

As for the negotiations with the Islamist militants for the release of the 29 captured Lebanese security personnel, the minister believes that this file was the exclusive responsibility of the prime minister and the interior and defense ministries.

The Committee of Muslim Scholars has been negotiating with the militants and mediating between them and the Lebanese government. However, the Committee’s work was suspended Friday following mediation challenges.

As a result, the minister ruled out the possibility of the Cabinet officially assigning General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim as a top negotiator on its behalf.

Earlier this month, five-day-clashes erupted between the Lebanese Army and fighters belonging to ISIS and the Nusra Front following the Army’s arrest of Syrian militant commander Imad Ahmad Jomaa.

But the minister believes that Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk might ask Ibrahim to contact his internal and regional connections.

Ibrahim is said to have a wide net of connections following the major role he played in freeing the Lebanese pilgrims abducted in Azaz last year.

The minister emphasized the importance of secrecy in this file, as any disclosed information might hinder the negotiation process and endanger those captured.

He explained that there was a governmental agreement for a media-blackout in this regard.

Separately, the March 14 minister gave assurances that the investigation into the twin car bombing targeting two Tripoli mosques last year was making progress.

He explained that there was evidence that the Syrian regime was behind bombings in Al-Taqwa Mosque at the Abu Ali roundabout and the nearby As-Salam Mosque.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 27, 2014, on page 3.




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