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March 14 politicians slam Hezbollah’s defense of its arms
Officials from March 14 coalition gather during the weekly meeting in Ashrafieh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)
Officials from March 14 coalition gather during the weekly meeting in Ashrafieh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)
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BEIRUT: Politicians in the opposition March 14 coalition hit back at Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Friday, accusing him of setting preconditions for the resumption of national dialogue based on his party’s arms.

They also rejected Nasrallah’s accusations that March 14 parties were funding and arming Syrian opposition groups fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, said Hezbollah had not been serious about dialogue over the Special TribunalLebanon and accused the resistance group of committing crimes in times of peace and times of war.

“Hezbollah was never serious about the dialogue sessions we held [regarding the STL]. We had agreed to an international tribunal and the matter took a little time. But where is Hezbollah’s commitment to this?” he asked.

“We don’t want to put conditions [on dialogue]. But they [Hezbollah] were never serious. Yesterday, he [Nasrallah] set a precondition: ‘Don’t speak about arms,’” Geagea said in a speech to mark the launch of the LF party’s charter in Maarab, northeast of Beirut.

During national dialogue sessions in 2006, Hezbollah and other March 8 parties agreed to establish an international court to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. However, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies later rejected the U.N.-backed tribunal, dismissing it as an “American-Israeli court.”

Last year, the STL indicted four Hezbollah members in Hariri’s killing and demanded their arrests. Hezbollah has rejected the indictment, vowing never to hand over the four suspects.

In a televised speech Thursday, Nasrallah left the door open to a resumption of dialogue with the March 14 alliance, stalled since November 2010, but said any talks must have certain preconditions.

He also accused the March 14 coalition of arming and financing the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime, saying that such actions destabilized Lebanon. Nasrallah also rejected former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s call on Hezbollah to surrender its arms to Lebanese authorities, saying that March 14 leaders were not in a position to impose conditions on any dialogue.

However, Geagea said that Hezbollah’s weapons, a major bone of contention between the March 8 and March 14 camps, threatened the country’s stability.

“The ones who are involving Lebanon [in crises] are those wielding power outside the Lebanese state,” Geagea said, in reference to Hezbollah’s arms. “What we [March 14 parties] are doing is taking a political and ethical stance,” he added, referring to March 14 parties’ support for the Syrian opposition.

Responding to Nasrallah who scoffed at Geagea saying that he was the last person to condemn “massacres” in Syria, the LF leader defended his party’s actions during the 1975-90 Civil War.

“Assuming that all the accusations against the LF about massacres during the war were true, then they would be worth just one drop in the sea of [crimes] of which Hezbollah was accused during the war and during peacetime,” Geagea said.

MP Ahmad Fatfat from Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc said there was nothing new in Nasrallah’s speech, except insistence on keeping Hezbollah’s arms.

“Sayyed Nasrallah appeared to be confused as a result of the [March 14 leaders’] speeches at the BIEL center, particularly [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s speech in which he extended his hand and called for dialogue,” Fatfat told Al-Fajr radio station. He described Nasrallah’s speech as that of “a militiaman” against Hariri’s speech of “a statesman.”

Fatfat rejected Nasrallah’s accusations that March 14 parties possessed arms and were financing the Syrian opposition. “Nasrallah is the one who possesses arms. He has admitted receiving political money [from Iran] and collaboration with Iran,” he said.

Deputy Speaker Farid Makkari also denied March 14 parties were sending arms and money to the Syrian opposition. “It is only political and media support [for the Syrian opposition], while the other side [Hezbollah] is practically supporting the [Syrian] regime by sending some of its members to fight alongside the regime and help it in suppressing its people,” Makkari said.

MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, defended the the party’s right to carry arms against criticismfrom March 14.

“This resistance is not a choice of a group, nor a choice of a part of our people. This resistance has become a slogan for all our people and for our awakening nation,” Raad told a rally in the southern town of Kfar Tibnit.

“Any change that does not take into account the bolstering of the resistance’s strength is not a change at all but a step backward. Conspirators, and those who collude to surround the resistance, have missed the boat.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2012, on page 3.
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