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Sleiman pitch ensures Hezbollah arms only used under army command
Sleiman addresses the summit in Peru. (The Daily Star/ Dalati Nohra/HO)
Sleiman addresses the summit in Peru. (The Daily Star/ Dalati Nohra/HO)
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BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Tuesday that under his national defense strategy Hezbollah’s arms would be used under the command of the Army to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

“The [National] Dialogue committee is studying a national defense strategy for Lebanon that places the arms of the resistance under the Army’s command in case of an Israeli aggression on Lebanese soil only and not for any other domestic or foreign reason,” Sleiman told a gathering of Lebanese expatriates in Peru.

“The use of such arms will be under the request of the Army in case of aggression and via a decision from the political authority,” he added.

The National Dialogue committee made up of Lebanon’s political leaders is reviewing a defense strategy proposed by Sleiman that aims to benefit from Hezbollah’s arms while ending a long debate between the resistance party and its rivals.

Under the proposal, Hezbollah would not hand its arms over to the Army, as demanded by the March 14 coalition, nor would there be a separate command for the resistance and the military, the defense strategy that Hezbollah backs.

In his speech to the Lebanese community abroad, Sleiman said that such an arrangement was necessary until the Army is equipped and capable of defending Lebanon against any potential Israeli aggression.

Last month, the Cabinet approved a $1.6 billion plan to provide weapons and equipment to the Army over the next five years.

Sleiman, who is heading the Arab delegation to the South American-Arab countries summit, met Jordanian King Abdullah II on the sidelines of the conference.

The two leaders discussed the Syrian crisis and its repercussions on Lebanon and Jordan.

Sleiman told reporters after the meeting that he shared a common concern with Abdullah to provide shelter for refugees who have fled the conflict in neighboring Syria.

“Our common concern is how to provide shelter to Syrian refugees be it in Lebanon or in Jordan, especially as we approach the winter season when it becomes harder to meet some needs that are related to energy, since both Lebanon and Jordan have energy shortages,” Sleiman said.

The president said he and the Jordanian king believed the crisis in Syria would not end in the near future.

“You are asking me about my feeling – I wish the crisis would end today but I feel it will not end anytime soon,” he told reporters.

Sleiman said he had not discussed with Abdullah the security challenges that refugees would bring to a country like Jordan.

“Refugees could become a burden in the light of the socioeconomic situation in Jordan. Such burden might create some security complications,” he said.

Sleiman addressed the summit later Tuesday, calling on member states to enhance cooperation in different fields in order to have a bigger presence on the international arena.

The president also urged the participating countries to back Lebanon’s bid to push for an international resolution that bans insults to religions.

Earlier in the day, the president told Lebanese expatriates that the summit – which brings together largely Christian South American nations and predominantly Muslim Arab countries – serves as a model for cultural dialogue, “especially at a time when we witness insults to religions and violent reactions in response.”

He was referring to a recent anti-Islamic film produced in the U.S. that sparked waves of protest.

Sleiman’s speech to expatriates focused on reassuring Lebanese living outside of their homeland of the political and economic situation, encouraging them to vote en masse in the upcoming 2013 parliamentary elections.

The president confirmed that Parliament would soon be adopting a draft law that enables expatriates to regain Lebanese citizenship.

“There is also an important law that was adopted in 2009 and will be applied in 2013, allowing Lebanese expatriates to take part in next year’s polls,” he said.

Sleiman urged Lebanese abroad to register to vote in embassies via the mechanism proposed by the Foreign Ministry, although this has yet to be approved by the Cabinet.

The mechanism will be discussed in next Wednesday’s session in which the necessary funds will be allocated to implement it, Sleiman said.

The president praised the economic and financial situation in Lebanon given the global economic crises, as well as the strategies adopted by the Central Bank to maintain sound monetary policies.

“Thanks to your investments and to our banking system, Lebanon has endured the world economic crisis. The Central Bank has an unprecedented $32 billion worth of reserves and the value of ‘yellow gold’ is at $17 billion, not to mention ‘the white gold’ which is represented by Lebanese around the world,” Sleiman said.

The president said that Lebanon, which has practiced democracy for more than 70 years, is happy about the democratic transitions taking place in the Middle East, but does not want to sacrifice its stability for this change.

He said that the “Baabda Declaration” was agreed by Lebanon’s rival leaders to distance the country from regional conflicts particularly events in Syria.

“The Baabda declaration reinforced the idea of distancing Lebanon from conflicts and preventing the country from becoming an arena for others to settle their disputes, send messages to each other or send arms and weapons to Syria,” Sleiman said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2012, on page 1.
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