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Sparks fly over Hezbollah arms at Bkirki Charter debate

Mazloum said a real dialogue needed to take place in Lebanon away from foreign interference. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Participants were divided over the legitimacy of Hezbollah’s arms during a conference discussing the Bkirki National Charter Monday, as others stressed the importance of the memorandum calling for the revival of National Dialogue between the various political parties.

The Israeli threat to Lebanon, the inability of the Lebanese Army to defend the country and the recent emergence of extremist groups “has made the arms of the resistance today more than an obligation and a necessity,” said retired Brig. Gen. Amine Hoteit, a supporter of Hezbollah.

According to Hoteit, it is “unacceptable” to propose that Hezbollah give up its weapons before the Lebanese government is able to replace it with another force that can defend the country.

Former MP Salah Honein rejected Hoteit’s idea, and said it was objectionable to discuss “defending the country except in regard to legal Lebanese forces.”

Honein called for “unified, exclusive weapons” that would only be in the hands of the state.

The panel on Hezbollah’s arms was moderated by talk show host Walid Abboud and titled “The decision of war and peace in the Bkirki National Charter.”

The document, announced by Rai in February, calls for Lebanon’s neutrality and for keeping military power under the exclusive authority of the state as well as abolishing what it called “self-security,” a reference to Hezbollah’s arsenal.

The charter also stresses the need for the timely election of a new president and for a Muslim-Christian partnership to run Lebanon.

The panel discussion was part of a conference held at the Hilton Hotel and titled “Bkirki National Charter: a National Project.” The event was organized by the Civic Committee under the patronage of President Michel Sleiman, and aimed to celebrate three years since the election of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.

The conference’s opening remarks saw a focus on the document’s call for National Dialogue, the last session of which occurred last week and was boycotted by most March 8 figures and some from March 14.

“The charter demands a Dialogue and open debate,” said former MP Farid Khazen. “The charter is an attempt to avoid the abyss.”

He said Lebanon was in “dire need” of a countrywide reconciliation in light of the precarious security situation.

Maronite Bishop Samir Mazloum said a real dialogue needed to take place “far from foreign interference, which will lead to a reconciliation between the Lebanese and the rebuilding of society.”

Another panel at the conference examined the issue of neutrality, something that has been heavily debated since the beginning of the Syrian conflict and Hezbollah’s involvement in it.

Sami Nader, a professor of economics and international relations at Université St. Joseph, explained that it was the first time in Lebanese history such a matter had been being debated at length.

“The Bkirki National Charter opened the door for a new reality concerning neutrality,” Nader said, adding that “commitment to neutrality was the main step,” particularly militarily.

“Neutrality has become a national demand even if not everyone is abiding by this,” he said.

The charter expresses support for the Baabda Declaration, which aims to keep Lebanon away from regional and international conflicts.

Former Minister Issam Naaman said Lebanon needed to be strong to neutralize itself, adding that it currently was not.

“Achieving independence is a first priority, so that it [Lebanon] can defend itself and its people,” Naaman said, but added that it would be nearly impossible to neutralize Lebanon from regional conflicts.

The panel also included a discussion on the current situation of Christians in the Mideast. According to Minister of State for Administrative Development Nabil de Freige, Christians’ fears in the region were justified, as their numbers were significantly dwindling. He said that in that regard, he supported Rai’s upcoming controversialvisit to occupied Jerusalem.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 13, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Participants were divided over the legitimacy of Hezbollah's arms during a conference discussing the Bkirki National Charter Monday, as others stressed the importance of the memorandum calling for the revival of National Dialogue between the various political parties.

According to Hoteit, it is "unacceptable" to propose that Hezbollah give up its weapons before the Lebanese government is able to replace it with another force that can defend the country.

The charter also stresses the need for the timely election of a new president and for a Muslim-Christian partnership to run Lebanon.

Another panel at the conference examined the issue of neutrality, something that has been heavily debated since the beginning of the Syrian conflict and Hezbollah's involvement in it.

Former Minister Issam Naaman said Lebanon needed to be strong to neutralize itself, adding that it currently was not.


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