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Damascus set to retaliate for Samaha arrest with own summons

  • Members of Police's Information Branch storm the apartment building where former Information Minister Michel Samaha lives in Ashrafieh, Lebanon on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Syria is expected to summon 30 Lebanese officials on suspicion of funding and supporting anti-regime armed groups, reports said Monday, several days after President Michel Sleiman demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad clarify his stance on a recently uncovered terrorist plot in Lebanon.

Damascus has repeatedly claimed that opponents of the Syrian regime in Lebanon are aiding the rebels leading the 17-month uprising against Assad.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah officials refused to comment on Sleiman’s remarks, amid reports that the group has privately expressed dismay at the president’s recent position.

“We have decided not to comment on this issue,” Hezbollah MP Nawwar al-Sahili told The Daily Star Monday.

Former Information Minister Michel Samaha was charged last week in a terror plot intended to undermine Lebanon’s security. Samaha allegedly possessed several explosive devices. Also charged was a high-ranking Syrian army official.

Sleiman has expressed hope that Assad was not involved in the plot.

“I hope with all my heart that no Syrian officials have anything to do with these explosives and that [the plot] was orchestrated by unofficial elements,” Sleiman said in remarks published by local newspapers Sunday.

In his confession to the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch shortly after his arrest on Aug. 10, Samaha said Assad wanted bomb attacks in Lebanon, according to sources.

Sleiman said Assad has not yet called him about Samaha’s arrest.

“I expect [Assad] to call me, but he has not yet,” he said. “When Syria made accusations against 33 Lebanese officials in the near past, I contacted President Assad to inquire about the issue. Today, there is a Lebanese accusation against a senior Syrian official and I expect the president to call and explain the situation.”

Lebanon’s judicial authorities have accused Syrian Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk of having links to the terror plot.

Nevertheless, Sleiman described his relationship with Assad as “good and open.”

Sleiman confirmed that he saw the explosives allegedly transported by Samaha from Syria to Lebanon “with my own eyes.”

“I was shocked at what I saw, and thank God these explosives did not explode.”

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television and Sky News Arabia said Monday that Syria’s judicial authorities were expected to issue summons for 30 Lebanese officials on suspicion of funding and supporting armed groups in Syria.

No further details were given, but the move could be a response to the charges pressed against Mamlouk.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea praised Sleiman’s position Monday and described it as “honorable.”

Geagea urged Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati to take further action by recalling Lebanon’s ambassador to Damascus and asking Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon to leave the country.

Geagea, a key opposition leader, said Lebanon should file an official complaint against the Syrian regime to the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat told The Daily Star Monday the Lebanese government “is completely absent when it comes to pointing the finger at Syria’s role in Samaha’s plot.”

“The president’s position shows he is concerned about defending Lebanon’s sovereignty, but the big question remains: Where is the government in all that?” Fatfat said, criticizing Mikati for “not doing anything” in response to a “violation of the country’s sovereignty.”

“This proves that the government is run by the Syrian regime and [Hezbollah leader Sayyed] Hasan Nasrallah,” Fatfat added.

The Mikati government was formed in June 2011, several months after the March 8 coalition toppled a national unity government headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

March 8 ministers resigned from Hariri’s government, thus stripping it of the necessary quorum required for any Cabinet to stay in office. The resignation was prompted by differences with Hariri and the March 14 coalition over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which later accused Hezbollah members of being behind the 2005 assassination of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah and its allies managed to bring Mikati into office with the help of Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2012, on page 1.
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