BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said Thursday he turned down a request by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri following the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan to withdraw his three ministers from the Cabinet in order to avert the country falling into a power vacuum.
In an interview with LBCI TV, Jumblatt, who has blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for Hasan’s killing, defended Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the face of fierce campaigns by the opposition March 14 parties, which called on him to resign hours after a deadly car bombing killed the police intelligence chief last week.
Later, Hariri hit back at Jumblatt, accusing him of belonging to the Iranian-Syrian alliance. “May God forgive you Walid Beik. Stability in your view is to stay within the Syrian-Iranian alliance. Mabrouk Ya Beik,” Hariri said on Twitter
Meanwhile, Hariri vowed to face “terrorist plots” in Lebanon despite security fears following Hasan’s assassination.
The head of the Future Movement expressed his sadness and pain because the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Friday, coincided this year with the assassination of Hasan, “who sacrificed his life to maintain the security of the Lebanese and their stability and abort the plans of the enemies of Lebanon to ignite sectarian strife.”
“This terrorist crime, that also killed innocent victims and destroyed the houses and properties of many citizens in Ashrafieh, has deprived the Lebanese people from the usual joy of Eid and brought them back to the atmosphere of anxiety, fear of security risks and the return of the specter of political assassinations that Lebanon had witnessed before,” Hariri said in a statement released by his media office.“But this will not deter us from continuing to face such terrorist plots with all our strength in order to consecrate the State project with its legitimate security and military forces, as the only project that guaranties the unity of Lebanon and the security of all the Lebanese without exception and prevents the attempts by some to bypass the state's role or replace it under any pretext or argument,” the former prime minister added.
Siniora met Hariri in the Saudi city of Jeddah Wednesday to discuss developments in Lebanon since Hasan’s assassination.
Jumblatt also criticized March 14 supporters who attempted to storm Mikati’s offices at the Grand Serail last Sunday following fiery speeches during Hasan’s funeral in Downtown Beirut, saying that they should have instead staged a sit-in outside the Syrian Embassy in Beirut.
“Saad Hariri asked me to resign [from the Cabinet], but I told him that I will not resign and will not leave the country in a vacuum,” Jumblatt said.
“Hariri told me that the Sunnis were being killed. I told him that the country was being assassinated ... My concern is stability and not plunging the country into strife. I will not resign and expose the country to a vacuum,” he added.
Referring to hundreds of March 14 supporters who clashed with securityforces after breaking through a security barrier in their attempt to storm the Grand Serail, Jumblatt said: “Instead of March 14 parties attacking the [Grand] Serail, they should have staged a sit-in in front of the Syrian Embassy ... It was not the Grand Serail that killed Wissam al-Hasan, but the Syrian regime.”Jumblatt also disclosed that former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, had told Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, one of Jumblatt’s three ministers in the Cabinet, during a meeting this week that if they resigned, Saudi Arabia’s doors might be opened to the PSP leader.
Jumblatt said he rejected Siniora’s offer, saying that it was up to Saudi King Abdullah if he wanted to receive him. “King Abdullah is still angry. There are differences with Hariri. But no to vacuum,” he said. “I will resign [withdraw my ministers from the Cabinet] only if the aim is to prevent strife,” he added.
The PSP leader accused Hariri and Siniora of “paralyzing” the country with their insistence on the government’s resignation.
Jumblatt said he did not regret having prevented strife with Mikati. “I have a common fate with Mikati,” he said.
Jumblatt acknowledged political differences with Hariri over Mikati’s government and a new election law still being debated by parliamentary committees.
Asked to comment on reports that Saudi Arabia was using its political weight to topple the Mikati government, he said: “I hope that Saudi Arabia will not take such a step to plunge Lebanon into the unknown.”
The PSP leader said he was ready to accept the formation of “a neutral government” as a way to defuse mounting tension between the March 8 and March 14 parties.
Jumblatt’s remarks came as President Michel Sleiman was pressing for an early session of National Dialogue in an attempt to discuss the possibility of forming a new government in order to resolve the crisis sparked by the assassination of the police intelligence chief.
Jumblatt, a harsh critic of Assad who supported the Syrian uprising, said the Syrian leader was threatening Turkey with igniting Sunni-Alawite strife and Jordan with Islamic fundamentalism. “Lebanon is the weakest link. It is in the eye of the Arab world’s storm,” he said.
The PSP leader added that he did not see a solution in the near future for the 19-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.
Meanwhile, the United States, fearing a power vacuum in Lebanon following the political crisis over Hasan’s assassination, said Thursday that the continuity of Lebanese institutions and government action was essential to ensure stability and security in the country.
The U.S. position was spelled out by the Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly following a meeting with Nader Hariri, Saad Hariri’s chief of staff.
“The United States remains committed to an independent, sovereign, and stable Lebanon. It is for the Lebanese parties to agree on the way forward, and it is vital that this be done through a peaceful political process,” Connelly said in a statement following the meeting held at the former prime minister’s residence in Downtown Beirut.
“The continuity of Lebanese institutions and government action must be maintained to ensure stability, security, and justice in Lebanon,” she added.
“We will continue to work with our international partners to promote the strength of the Lebanese state and to promote Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty, and stability.”
Connelly said she discussed with Hariri the political and security situation in Lebanon in the wake of Hasan’s assassination and regional events.
“We continue to stand by the Lebanese people and condemn in the strongest terms the assassination of Maj. Gen. Hasan and all attempts to use assassination as a political tool,” she said. “We join others in Lebanon who are demanding an end to impunity for political assassinations and other politically motivated violence. We have offered U.S. assistance in the investigation to help ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that a power vacuum in Lebanon could be exploited by Syria.