BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri delivered an impassioned plea Friday for moderation, lashing out against extremism and Hezbollah, vowing never to drag Lebanon’s Sunni community into a sectarian war.
He also 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.
“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,” he said.
Speaking via video link during an event to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri issued a renewed demand for Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria to combat sectarianism that has taken hold in Lebanon.
“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, who held talks with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh Friday, said 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.
The party’s role alongside regime forces has created an unprecedented wave of suicide bombers infiltrating Lebanese neighborhoods where the party enjoys broad support, he said.
“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.
“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 toward 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.
“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 outside 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.”
Hariri also spoke about the upcoming presidential polls, 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 consider the Lebanese Christian Maronite president a symbol of coexistence between Muslims and Christians,” he said.
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.
At the start of the rally, the Future Movement said its MPs had signed a document that will be delivered to the U.N. secretary-general demanding an expansion of the STL’s mandate to include assassinations carried out after 2005.
Hariri 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.
He 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.”