BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Friday urged Speaker Nabih Berri and top Shiite religious leaders to use their influence with Hezbollah to convince the group to end its military intervention in Syria. Hariri blamed Hezbollah for "sabotaging inter-Muslim ties" between Sunnis and Shiites by refusing to withdraw from the war in Syria.
Speaking via video link during an event to commemorate the 9th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri also expressed opposition to allowing the presidency to remain empty.
“I address the wise men of the Shiite sect, the Higher Shiite Council, the sons of Imam Musa Sadr, Sheikh Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddine, Sayyed Mohammad Fadlallah, and Muslim scholars who claim righteousness,” Hariri said.
"In particular, I address Speaker Nabih Berri, in his capacity as a pillar of the Shiite sect in Lebanon, and as a leader who has always found ways to come up with solutions and bridge gaps.”
Hariri went on to say that Hezbollah's participation in the Syrian war posed a threat to Lebanon's security and "national partnership," as well as driving a wedge between Sunnis and Shiites in the country.
Hariri said Hezbollah's role in Syria alongside regime forces has created an unprecedented wave of suicide bombers infiltrating Lebanese neighborhoods where the party enjoys broad support.
“But the most dangerous of all is the growing sectarian aspect of the Lebanese involvement in this war, which is also affecting the Army and security forces,” he said.
Hariri also noted that Lebanese citizens, whether supporters or opponents of President Bashar Assad, should have the right to voice their opinions without dragging the country into the crisis next door.
Addressing Berri, Hariri said: “We assume that people’s suffering--the scenes of booby-trapped cars, suicide attacks that claimed innocent lives, the hundreds of coffins carrying those killed in the battles, the panic and anxiety haunting citizens, the sectarian tensions ... are enough to reconsider decisions that brought only death and destruction to Lebanon.”
“Fighting terrorism requires an immediate decision by Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, abandon the illusion of its pre-emptive war and recognize that the Lebanese State is responsible for the safety of its borders and citizens,” he said.
He added that combating the rise of terrorism in Lebanon also required national unity to restore commitment to the Baabda declaration, an agreement signed in 2012 by rival groups, including Hezbollah, to adopt a position of neutrality towards the war in Syria.
Hariri has repeatedly urged Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria and has blamed the resistance group for the series of terrorist attacks that has targeted predominantly-Shiite areas controlled by the party.
“Everything begins here. But will anyone listen, learn, be humble and take an initiative?” Hariri asked.
“We will not stop betting on the voice of logic and the brave national stance that breaks the wall of political stubbornness,” he said.
Hariri, who has been out of the country for almost three years, also rejected attempts to drag Lebanon and the Sunni sect into a war between Hezbollah and extremist Sunni groups.
“As the Future Movement, we will confront provocations and suspicious calls to involve Lebanon, and the Sunni sect in particular, in insane wars that will only drag Lebanon into a sectarian inferno,” Hariri said.
“Just as we refuse to fashion ourselves in the image of Hezbollah, so we refuse to create ourselves in the image of ISIS [The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria] and the Nusra Front," he said. "We refuse to drag the Future Movement into a war between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda."
Responding to Hezbollah’s allegations that the Future Movement was providing a safe haven for takfiri groups in the country, Hariri said: “We assure those who think that Lebanon is fertile ground for terrorism and are trying blame the Future Movement along with Sunni cities and towns that their illusions will [not be believed].”
Hariri also spoke about the upcoming presidential elections, voicing his party's opposition to allowing a vacuum at the country's top post, which, Hariri noted, is the only presidency in the Arab world reserved for a Christian.
"We refuse a vacuum in the presidency because a state without a president is a state on the verge of collapse ... because we consider the Lebanese Christian Maronite president a symbol of coexistence between Muslims and Christians,” he said.
“If the Assad family’s wardship of Lebanon turned the presidential elections into an occasion to sidestep the will of Christians in Lebanon, to make them feel that they are unfairly represented and make the Muslims feel this tutelage, then we, in the Future Movement, will only accept a president who truly represents the national will of the Christians and refuses any tutelage other than that of the Constitution,” he added.
Commemorating the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probing the 2005 assassination of his father, Hariri said revenge was never a policy of Rafik Hariri.
“Can you imagine that [the martyrs including Hariri] would seek revenge, or respond to political assassinations with political assassinations, or take up weapons against those carrying weapons and violate the national consensus?” Hariri said.
He said the March 14 coalition should protect national unity and keep Lebanon neutral for the sake of the country despite Hezbollah’s actions in Syria.
“If they go against the national consensus, then we have to increase our commitment to the rules of this consensus [as laid out] in the Taif Agreement and the Baabda Declaration ... I will also add to that Bkirki’s National Charter,” he said.
Hariri urged his supporters follow his late father's example.
“The Future Movement will either be in the image of Rafik Hariri, or will cease to exist,” he said.