BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt has held talks over the weekend with Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah on the presidential election, the Israeli war on Gaza and the turmoil in Syria and Iraq.
It was the first meeting between the two leaders in more than two years following tension over the conflict in Damascus.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, fed up with Parliament’s failure to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, called for the election of a president who is not aligned with the March 8 and March 14 coalitions in a bid to break the 2-month-old presidential deadlock that has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening the government’s work.
Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, met Nasrallah for more than two hours at a secret location in Beirut’s southern suburbs Saturday night.
Describing his talks with Nasrallah as “very positive,” Jumblatt told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station: “Palestine brings us together.”
Mohammad Afif, head of Hezbollah’s media office, said the Nasrallah-Jumblatt meeting was “useful and important.”
“The two leaders exchanged viewpoints on a variety of domestic as well as regional and international issues, the latest developments in Iraq,” Afif told The Daily Star.
Asked if the meeting would help in breaking the presidential deadlock, he said: “In the first place, the meeting was not intended to provide solutions to a crisis that requires consultations among all Lebanese factions.”
Afif noted that while Hezbollah supported Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency, Jumblatt backed Aley MP Henri Helou and the March 14 coalition’s candidate is Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
Afif acknowledged political differences remained between Hezbollah and Jumblatt over the Syrian war, now in its fourth year.
Jumblatt, a harsh critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has slammed Hezbollah’s military involvement in the war next door, calling it a historic and moral “mistake” toward the Syrian people.
In discussing domestic issues, “particularly the significance of energizing the government’s work,” Nasrallah and Jumblatt stressed the need for a speedy election of a new president to end the vacancy in the country’s top Christian post, according to a statement issued jointly by the Hezbollah and PSP media offices.
They also discussed the security situation, agreeing on the need to maintain internal cohesion, bolster security measures taken to consolidate stability in the country by raising the level of coordination among security agencies.
The two leaders discussed the political relationship between their parties, expressing intentions to further develop it. “The two sides expressed their satisfaction with the progress of the relationship between their two parties and stressed the need to develop it in order to serve the interest of the two parties and the national public interest,” the statement said.
They also discussed, Israel’s military offensive, now in third week, against the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and wounded over 5,000.
Declaring their solidarity with the Palestinian people and their steadfastness in confronting the Israeli occupation, “the two sides agreed that Palestine will remain the main issue, rising above any political differences.”They both condemned the displacement and killing of Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and killing of Muslims at the hands of takfiri factions, in reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
“They stressed the need for discussing the means to protect Iraq’s unity and its political diversity,” the statement said.
Nasrallah also met Sunday with a senior Iranian official after receiving a phone call from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who discussed with him “the means of support needed to stop the aggression on Gaza and lift the Israeli siege.”
The Hezbollah chief had earlier met with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdolahian, who was accompanied by the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Fathali.
The talks centered on developments in Lebanon and the region in general, and “the terrorist Zionist aggression on Gaza in particular, and the means of supporting Gaza’s people and resistance in order to stop the aggression and lift the unjust siege,” the National News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, Rai called on lawmakers to elect a president from outside the March 8 and March 14 blocs, arguing that a neutral would end the political impasse.
“The March 14 coalition doesn’t want a president aligned with March 8, and the March 8 coalition doesn’t want a president aligned with March 14. Therefore, there is a need to choose a president who is outside both blocs,” Rai said in Sunday’s sermon at his summer residence in Diman. “There are many Maronite figures who are worthy of the presidency.”
Rai renewed his call on Parliament to meet and elect a president either from the March 8 and March 14 coalitions or from outside.
Referring to Saturday’s Parliament meeting in a rare show of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and Christians in Iraq, Rai said: “How nice it was to see Parliament convene to declare its solidarity with the people in Gaza and the Christians of Mosul, with all of its blocs present,” Rai said.
He added that it would have been “much nicer if Parliament had convened with all its members to announce its solidarity with the republic and its presidency, and elect a new president.”
Parliament failed last week to elect a president for the ninth time since April over a lack of quorum. Lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum by boycotting the sessions, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate.