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Mikati: Consensus needed to face Israel

From left, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Prime Minister Najib Mikati attend a Parliament session in Beirut, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati, taking a swipe at Hezbollah for sending a drone over Israel, said Tuesday that effectively confronting Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty requires decisions be made through national consensus.

“Any Lebanese action – be it political, diplomatic, or security-related – aimed at confronting Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty would be inefficient in the absence of national consensus,” Mikati told ministers at a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail.

“National consensus provides the necessary umbrella for any action and that is what the National Dialogue is trying to achieve through a defense strategy,” he said.

Hezbollah Minister Mohammad Fneish responded to Mikati’s comments by arguing that the drone “Ayoub” represents a significant addition to Lebanon’s deterrence ability.

“Israel has violated our airspace thousands of times, so it should not be a big deal if we do it once,” he was quoted as saying. Before the session, Fneish told The Daily Star he was surprised that some Lebanese parties are using “Israeli logic” in tackling the issue.

The exchange between the ministers ended with Mikati reiterating Lebanon’s commitment to the full implementation of Resolution 1701 and calling on the U.N. to pressure Israel to stop violating Lebanese sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Hezbollah’s decision to send a drone without any government role is a violation of the sovereignty of the state.

“It seems that Iran, through its representative in Lebanon [Hezbollah], is continuing to violate the country’s sovereignty by acting the way it wishes in order to serve its own goals regardless of Lebanon’s national security,” the bloc said in a statement.

“Flying a drone in enemy skies might yield dangerous results and the Lebanese people will bear the consequences of such actions the same way they did in the past as a result of previous adventures,” the statement added, hinting at the July war of 2006 which was sparked by a Hezbollah cross-border raid. The bloc also condemned Israeli violations of Lebanon sovereignty but said such violations do not give any party the right to ignore the Baabda Declaration and turn Lebanon into an arena for regional conflicts.

Lebanese parties agreed during dialogue sessions held under the auspices of President Michel Sleiman at the Baabda Palace that Lebanon should stay away from regional crises.

The Future bloc also criticized Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour for his position that the drone was not a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.

“Such a statement gives Israel a pretext to continue its daily violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty,” it said. Mansour, however, denied a media report which quoted him saying the Ayoub drone is not a violation of 1701, a statement by his press office said.

An-Nahar daily published Sunday an interview with the minister, quoting him as saying the aerial vehicle sent by Hezbollah does not violate Resolution 1701.

The daily also quoted Mansour as saying Lebanon would take responsibility for the dispatch of the drone, which was shot down by Israel on Oct. 6.

“The minister has not made such statements and the content of the interview was fully interpolated,” the statement said.

Separately, Mikati commented during Tuesday’s Cabinet session on the escape of prisoners from Roumieh prison. “I reject and condemn what happened in Roumieh prison recently, and the government will not tolerate such incidents and will hold accountable all those who are responsible,” the premier said.

It was discovered last week that three Islamists had escaped sometime in the past three months. The men were jailed on charges of belonging to Fatah al-Islam, which fought a deadly war with the Lebanese Army in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.

Mikati said the recent inauguration of a new courtroom near the prison facility will ease trials. The escape was discovered when prison guards went to call one of the inmates to report for trial. Hundreds of inmates have been detained for years without trial due to logistical hurdles of transporting and holding trials for large groups at the same time.

Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi told The Daily Star that among the ideas being discussed by the Cabinet is transferring some inmates to Defense Ministry cells.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 17, 2012, on page 1.

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