BEIRUT: The parliamentary Future bloc called Tuesday on Hezbollah to clarify its position on the discussion of its arms and renewed its demand for the government to provide security agencies with complete telecommunications data as an essential step for the opposition March 14 coalition to end its boycott of National Dialogue.
The bloc’s stance came as the row over the telecoms data issue escalated between the March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun described the March 14 demand for complete telecoms data as “illegal,” saying it touched on the people’s private lives.
Meanwhile, the general prosecutor of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Normon Farrell, and top investigator Mohammad Ali al-Lajmi arrived in Beirut Tuesday night from Paris for talks with Lebanese officials on the work of the tribunal, which is seeking to uncover and try the perpetrators of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed the significance of dialogue among rival Lebanese factions as a way to resolve political differences and consolidate sectarian coexistence.
It also expressed appreciation President Michel Sleiman’s call for intra-Lebanese dialogue and his efforts to make the talks successful.
However, the bloc reiterated the requirements to ensure the success of dialogue which, it said, “should be held among parties equal in rights and duties who must show honest readiness” to make any dialogue move successful.
“Hence, the bloc sees that the March 14 coalition’s declared stance on suspending participation in National Dialogue sessions came after parties participating in Dialogue who control the Cabinet decision-making had refused to allow the Lebanese security bodies to obtain the necessary cellular telecommunications data to fight the assassination crimes and protect the Lebanese from terrorist acts,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at Hariri’s residence in Downtown Beirut.
The statement clearly referred to Hezbollah and its ally, Aoun’s FPM, who have strongly refused to allow security bodies to access the data on the pretext of protecting people’s privacy.
The bloc warned that the government’s continued refusal to constantly and automatically provide security bodies with telecoms data undermined the credibility of these parties and the usefulness of dialogue with them, “especially as these parties [Hezbollah] upheld illegitimate arms, refusing to put them under the state’s authority and control.”
“The Future bloc stresses its stance on the need for automatically and constantly providing the Lebanese security bodies with complete telecoms data without impediments,” it said.
It called on the government to protect March 14 leaders threatened with assassination. The bloc also demanded the quick arrest of people suspected of involvement in the attempts to assassinate Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in April and Batroun MP Butros Harb in July and lift protection from “those criminals and expose those standing behind them.”
The bloc called on Hezbollah to clarify its stance on National Dialogue on the issue of its arms following MP Mohammad Raad’s “surprising remarks” that it was premature to discuss a national defense strategy now.
“Dialogue is an important and essential means for resolving differences and is not [meant] for maneuvers,” it said.
The bloc stressed that any dialogue not based on the principle of adhering to the Constitution with regard to the state as the only authority to possess arms and defend Lebanon, would be “a futile dialogue [meant] for distraction and passing time.”
The bloc’s stance came a day after Sleiman postponed a new round of National Dialogue scheduled for Tuesday until Aug. 16, in a move reflecting continuing rifts between rival political leaders over the thorny issue of Hezbollah’s arms and the release of telecoms data.
Sleiman’s decision came shortly after the March 14 coalition upheld its decision to boycott the Dialogue session, citing ambiguities concerning the release of telecommunications data it says security bodies need to carry on their probes in cases of attempted assassinations of the coalition’s political figures.
The Dialogue session was supposed to discuss how to benefit from Hezbollah’s weapons in a national defense strategy designed to protect Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.
Siniora, after meeting an envoy of Sleiman, reiterated the March 14 demand for the release of complete telecoms data to security agencies.
Meanwhile, Aoun rejected the March 14 demand for the release of complete telecoms data as “illegal.”
“We heard yesterday that they [March 14 parties] are demanding complete data and [Hezbollah’s] arms. Arms was not originally on the Dialogue agenda,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
Noting that Tuesday’s Dialogue session was designed to discuss a plan to be presented by Sleiman on a national defense strategy, Aoun said: “We were surprised by their demand for complete [telecoms] data. This demand is illegal and unconstitutional. It touches on the people’s private lives without any reason.”
The March 14 coalition has held the government responsible for the attempted assassination of Harb because it has withheld telecoms data necessary for security bodies to uncover such plots.
Since the assassination attempt against Geagea in April, the March 14 coalition has accused the Hezbollah-controlled government of providing cover for perpetrators. March 14 officials have repeatedly called on the government to provide security forces with the data needed to investigate the assassination attempts.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly underlined the need for rival Lebanese leaders to continue dialogue.
“The National Dialogue is important. The United Nations, the Security Council in its press statement and the secretary-general, we are all concerned with the National Dialogue. We believe that it is something positive, particularly at this time,” Plumbly told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail. “We hope that the obstacles to convening the National Dialogue will be overcome in order to allow the next session that the President has now scheduled for August to take place.”