Lebanon News

Hariri: Hezbollah’s retreat from Syria will help stop suicide attacks

File - Prime Minister Saad Hariri reviews honor guards at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Monday, April 4, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Hezbollah’s pullout from Syria could put an end to suicide bomb attacks that have struck Lebanese areas where the group enjoys wide support.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Egyptian TV channel CBC in Cairo broadcast Saturday night, Hariri also pledged to prevent a presidential vacuum, saying he would return to Lebanon to participate in the election of a new president.

The head of the Future Movement said Lebanon began facing security problems after Hezbollah decided to intervene militarily in Syria last year to support President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Asked if he feared that the cycle of deadly car bombings and suicide attacks that has targeted areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the northeastern town of Hermel would continue, Hariri said: “This matter will not stop. Our problem in Lebanon is that we do not know how to stop it because Hezbollah’s move [military involvement in Syria] has put us in the position of receiving [car bombs].”

“Hezbollah supports the [Syrian] regime and we as a political movement are against it and we support the opposition. Over the past two years, we did not witness in Lebanon the reverberations of the Syrian conflict, except the issue of Syrian refugees. But suddenly, Hezbollah decided to go to Syria. When it did, disasters began sweeping Lebanon,” he added.

Hariri’s remarks came as a suicide car bombing targeting a Lebanese Army post in Hermel killed two soldiers and a civilian and wounded 17 others Saturday, in the latest attack carried out by Al-Qaeda-linked groups in retaliation for Hezbollah’s role in Syria. The Hermel attack occurredthree days after twin suicide bombings targeting the Iranian Cultural Center in Bir Hasan south of Beirut killed 11 people.

Hariri and his allies in the March 14 coalition have repeatedly called on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria in line with the previous government’s self-declared disassociation policy on the war in Syria.

“Definitely, Hezbollah’s pullout from Syria will remove the pretext used by some [to justify suicide bombings]. Those suicide bombers fabricate pretexts and commit suicide in Taba [Egypt], Lebanon, Iraq or Bulgaria,” Hariri said.

“In Lebanon, there are young men who were not particularly organized but who saw the massacres in Syria and joined Al-Qaeda, ISIS and similar groups in Syria. They were brainwashed and turned into ticking time bombs, carrying out suicide attacks in Lebanon because of Hezbollah’s intervention,” he added.

Hariri defended the March 14 coalition, particularly the Future Movement, against Hezbollah’s allegations that they were funding and arming opposition groups. “We support the opposition politically, but we do not arm it or recruit fighters for it. We do not have the capability to do so,” he said.

Hariri urged Hezbollah to think of Lebanon’s interests first, saying the party would not be able to take over the country.

“But I have no doubt that the decision regarding the Hezbollah leadership is in Iran,” he said.

Hariri said the war in Syria was long, adding that the Assad regime would eventually fall.

“For me, the Assad regime has fallen. What is protecting it is the presence of Iran, Hezbollah and all the groups there. The equation in the region will change when the regime will fall,” he said.

Hariri, who has been living out of Lebanon for more than two years for security reasons, said he would return to participate in the election of a new president in the spring despite the security risks.

“The risk is great, and those who killed [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri can also kill Saad Hariri,” he said. “My return to Lebanon depends on the political and security moment I deem fit. We have a presidential election in Lebanon that should take place. I will not be absent and I will be at the heart of this event. I will not set a specific date for my return to Lebanon because the danger still exists, but it will be very soon, God willing.”

Hariri vowed to prevent the country from slipping into a presidential vacuum when President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term expires on May 25.

“There will be presidential election. I have said in a speech that there shouldn’t be a presidential vacuum in Lebanon. This is not permissible. I am serious about this, and at that moment you will see Saad Hariri in Lebanon,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 24, 2014, on page 3.




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