BEIRUT: Senior officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah will meet Tuesday in a new round of talks amid soaring tensions between the two rival parties, fueled by a bitter war of words over the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, officials said Monday.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri paid a short visit to Doha Monday during which he held talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani focusing on the latest developments in the region, particularly the Saudi-led military airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
During the one-hour meeting, the two leaders highlighted the “importance of Arab solidarity which manifested itself in the ‘Decisive Storm’ operation to bring the situation back to normal in Yemen, and the challenges facing the Arab region in general,” according to a statement released by Hariri’s office.
Hariri later left for Riyadh, where he met at his residence with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, one of three senior officials representing the Future Movement in the dialogue with Hezbollah.
Hariri stressed during the meeting the “importance of the achievements of the Internal Security Forces in the fight against terrorism, especially the latest accomplishment by the [ISF’s] Information Branch in the northern city of Tripoli,” said another statement released by the former premier’s office.
The ISF’s Information Branch, which falls under Machnouk’s prerogatives, dealt a major blow last week to Islamist militants, killing two and arresting an extremist preacher. Police shot dead notorious Islamist militant Osama Mansour and one of his partners in Tripoli Thursday night during an operation to arrest Sheikh Khaled Hoblos, a radical cleric accused of heading a militia based in the northern town of Bhannin that attacked the Lebanese Army.
Last month, Hariri held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on visits aimed at reaffirming support for moderation in the face of the Islamist extremism roiling the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri, who has been hosting the Future-Hezbollah dialogue at his Ain al-Tineh residence since last December, said he would call on the two sides to soften their tough rhetoric in addressing disagreements over the wars in Yemen and Syria.
“We will ask Hezbollah and the Future Movement to express disagreements in a less tense and calmer way to avoid tensions,” Berri said in comments published by Al-Hayat newspaper.
Berri said Future-Hezbollah dialogue was launched with the aim of defusing sectarian tensions between the Sunni and Shiite sects in Lebanon. “But the mutual campaigns are increasing this tension instead of reducing it,” he said.
However, despite the bitter war of words, Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah have affirmed that dialogue between their two parties would go on, unaffected by their sharp differences over the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
In addition to defusing sectarian tensions, the Future and Hezbollah officials have begun discussing a national strategy to fight terrorism and a mechanism to end the 10-month-old presidential vacuum.
Media reports said the two sides would discuss Tuesday a security plan for Beirut and its southern suburbs after they had supported a similar plan carried out in the northern Bekaa Valley region to crack down on kidnappings for ransom, wanted criminals, drug smuggling and car thefts.
The new tension arose after Nasrallah last month blasted Saudi Arabia for spearheading an Arab coalition in a military offensive against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. He also accused Riyadh of launching the war in an attempt to regain control over Yemen.
Nasrallah’s remarks drew quick rebuke from Hariri and Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri, who said that the Hezbollah chief’s comments contained false allegations and reflected the confusion of his patron, Iran. Hariri also assailed Nasrallah over his anti-Saudi speech and denounced Iran over its role in Lebanon and Yemen.
Despite the escalating media campaigns, Berri said Hezbollah and the Future Movement have insisted on maintaining the dialogue.
Nasrallah is scheduled to address a Hezbollah rally Friday to protest the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, according to a party statement.
Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said his party was committed to dialogue with the Future Movement despite their political differences on regional conflicts.
“Despite the escalation and offensive media remarks against us, we do not want to plunge the Lebanese arena again in complication and tension. There is a need for calm,” Fayyad said at a memorial ceremony in South Lebanon.
“We also uphold the dialogue because it is a Lebanese necessity and its function has not lost its significance despite the deep differences over the open regional issues,” he added.
Future official Mustafa Alloush called on his party to end dialogue with Hezbollah over anti-Hariri comments made by Nasrallah and bloc members.
“Dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah must end in the wake of Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and MP Mohammad Raad’s insistence on attacking Mr. [Saad] Hariri and the Future Movement,” Alloush said in remarks published by the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anbaa.