BEIRUT: Emboldened by Saudi King Abdullah’s letter calling for Lebanese national dialogue, President Michel Sleiman plans to embark on a tour of four Arab Gulf states to enlist their support in nudging rival political leaders into talking to each other, sources at the Baabda Palace said Wednesday. Abdullah’s letter provided an opportunity for Sleiman to revive his efforts to relaunch national dialogue, stalled since November 2010, the sources said, as the country faced a threat of instability arising from growing political and sectarian tensions as a result of the 15-month-old uprising in Syria.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri said that contacts were ongoing to secure the release of 11 Lebanese abducted by rebels in Syria while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. Also, the Cabinet voiced support for the Lebanese Army’s measures to maintain law and order in the country following a series of incidents in the north and clashes in Beirut that threatened to undermine security.
In addition to Saudi Arabia, Sleiman plans to visit Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, three of the four countries which have warned their nationals against traveling to Lebanon following a series of security incidents in Tripoli. Bahrain is the fourth country to take the same measure. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Awad Assiri, said earlier this week his country has no plans to issue a similar warning.
During the tour, Sleiman will seek to reassure the leaders of the four states that the security situation in Lebanon is stable, while affirming that Lebanon is keen on preserving the dignity of all the Arabs, the sources said.
The president will also explain to Gulf leaders Lebanon’s dissociation policy aimed at insulating the country from the reverberations of regional conflicts, they added.
Sleiman’s planned tour is expected to provide leverage for a long-awaited internal dialogue between rival leaders in the March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition. The sources said hopes were pinned on the wisdom of political leaders who appear to be wary of the explosive nature of the current situation, while regional and international powers are preoccupied with issues that eclipse the Lebanese crisis.
The gravity of the situation has obliged leaders to combine efforts in order to ward off the threat of strife by using calm and balanced speech.
The Baabda sources said signs of such rhetoric emerged in three events: Containing the situation in the north; Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s speech in which he called on supporters protesting the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese by Syrian rebels to stay calm; and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s pacifying statements and contacts with Sleiman, Berri and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
Abdullah said in a letter to Sleiman Tuesday that Saudi Arabia was “very worried” about recent developments in Lebanon and the incidents in Tripoli, “especially the targeting of a major sect in the country’s social fabric.” He called on Sleiman to sponsor national dialogue.
For his part, Sleiman spoke by telephone Wednesday with the Saudi king and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to discuss ways of consolidating stability in Lebanon, according to a Baabda Palace statement.
Beirut Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq accused the Syrian regime of stirring up the clashes in Tripoli. He said the killing of two sheikhs in Akkar Sunday was not an accident, but the result of sectarian mobilization.
“It isn’t surprising for the Syrian regime and its group to stir up the clashes in Tripoli. But what’s stranger, which causes a state of imbalance, is the current government,” Mashnouq told Future TV.
“This government, since Najib Mikati was designated to form it, has clearly been a government [designed] to isolate and confront a specific political party,” he added.
Meanwhile, the ordeal of the 11 Lebanese hostages continued amid hopes for their release as regional and international contacts were made to secure their freedom.
Berri said contacts were ongoing to secure the release of the 11 and blamed Syria’s opposition for their abduction.
“There are many contacts which have been made and are still being carried out by President [Sleiman], Prime Minister [Najib Mikati] and Foreign Minister [Adnan Mansour] along with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other parties,” he told reporters at Parliament. “We hope that it leads to positive results today rather than tomorrow.”
The speaker said it has become well-known that the Syrian opposition was behind the kidnapping. Syrian opposition leaders denied rebels were behind the kidnapping but some said the hostages were fine and would be released soon.
In a show of solidarity, some 200 people, including relatives of the hostages and Hezbollah and Amal MPs, gathered at the Imam Mohammad Shamseddine Complex in Tayyouneh, south of Beirut. MP Hekmat Dib from Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, and Charbel Eid, the head of the Lebanese Forces Student League, also attended.
Addressing the crowd, Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar assured the families that their loved ones were in good shape, and urged patience.
“We were told that the hostages are alive and okay ... We hope to meet them in the coming hours,” Ammar said. He added that the captors have identified themselves as members of the rebel Free Syrian Army which is fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad.
“Contacts are ongoing with Turkish officials, Arab kings and princes, European and non-European diplomatic missions and all sides with influence on the Free Syrian Army,” Ammar said. “Patience and consciousness are the strongest weapon at present.”
Meanwhile, the Cabinet session held at Baabda Palace was dominated by the security incidents in the north and clashes in Beirut that threatened to destabilize the country.
The Cabinet, meeting under Sleiman, voiced support for the Lebanese Army and promised to provide it with all the necessary tools to enable it to protect the country and citizens, according to a statement. The Cabinet asked the defense and interior ministers to make proposals for supporting the army’s mission in maintaining security.
Addressing the meeting, Sleiman said the killing of the two sheikhs had shocked all the Lebanese and the military in particular, because the Akkar region was the “main pillar” for the army.
He said the Akkar incident sparked street clashes between Future Movement supporters and their rivals in the pro-Syrian Arab Movement Party headed by Shaker Berjawi in the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh in which two people were killed.
“Then came the kidnapping of the Lebanese in Syria by the Syrian opposition. All this came in the context of negative developments,” Sleiman said. He added that these developments led to one positive result, when rival political leaders unanimously condemned these incidents and talked to each other by telephone.
For his part, Mikati said the government dealt with the regrettable incidents in the north wisely and responsibly out of its conviction that civil peace, while rejecting calls by the Future bloc and some March 14 politicians on him to resign.