BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman Saturday, nearing the end of his six-year term, called once again on Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria and commit to the Baabda Declaration, saying cooperation between the president and the resistance group was needed, but within certain limits.
Speaking during an event to solidify reconciliation between Christians and Druze in the Chouf village of Brih, Sleiman made a public appeal to Hezbollah, saying: “From this place of return, I appeal for a return to Lebanon and a withdrawal from neighboring arenas to prevent future repercussions on Lebanon’s unity, social fabric and choices.
A singular state with its Army, which should have monopoly over use of weapons, and its elements of power in the framework of a national defense strategy are the only ones capable of defending the nation, breaking barriers and eliminating the self-security phenomenon.”
During one of several National Dialogue sessions Sleiman chaired in the past two years, the president proposed in 2012 a national defense strategy aimed at incorporating Hezbollah’s arms into the military.
His proposal stipulates that the arms of the resistance be used by the state until the Army could take over all defense responsibilities, and that Hezbollah operates only in the event of occupation.
Rival groups never had a chance to fully discuss the draft strategy in light of the political assassinations and sharp disputes that began with the assassination of Wissam al-Hasan that year.
Ties between Hezbollah and Sleiman deteriorated quickly after the president’s repeated criticism of the party’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.
But Sleiman, whose term ends on May 25, urged his successor to keep communication channels open with Hezbollah, saying the president should be cooperative with all rival groups.
“What is required from the president, the head of the state, is to cooperate as well with those who help defend Lebanon and I mean here the resistance and Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah,” he said, outside of Mukhtara, MP Walid Jumblatt’s residence.
“Such cooperation should continue but in the framework of a national defense strategy that should preserve and fortify the country,” he added.
Sleiman also spoke about the Baabda Declaration, a document many say is one of the president’s primary accomplishes since he was elected in 2008.
“As a lesson learned from the pains of the past, I affirm the need to commit to the Baabda Declaration as a document backed by the United Nations and the Arab League, to distance Lebanon and the Lebanese from regional and international conflicts,” he said.
“This declaration completes the National Covenant, and it can lessen repercussions on Lebanon from historic changes in the region, particularly in Syria,” he added, noting that members of the National Dialogue committee unanimously agreed to this declaration, a point of contention.