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Hariri, Jumblatt bury the hatchet

Hariri and Jumblatt hold talks in Paris. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt discussed Tuesday night the tense domestic situation in addition to the uprising in Syria during a meeting in Paris, their first in 19 months.

Hariri received Jumblatt, accompanied by his wife Noura, at his residence in the French capital, the former prime minister’s office said in a statement.

The discussion, which continued over dinner, focused on the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. Also in attendance at the meeting, which was still ongoing as The Daily Star went to press, was Hariri’s chief of staff Nader Hariri.

A senior PSP source had earlier told The Daily Star the meeting stems from the two leaders’ “keenness to preserve civil peace.”

“The PSP and the Future Movement have always maintained contact,” the source added.

Another PSP source told The Daily Star that discussions between the two political leaders would tackle Syria’s uprising as well as the 2013 electoral draft law that was recently approved by Lebanon’s Cabinet and is due to be discussed by MPs.

Jumblatt’s stance toward Hezbollah will also be discussed, the source added.

While Hariri and Jumblatt both see eye-to-eye with regards to the 17-month-old unrest in Syria, having openly supported the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, they differ on the level domestic issues.

Jumblatt, in fact, still refuses to resign from the March 8-dominated Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, which has come under attack from Hariri and his allies in the March 14 coalition.

“Jumblatt had made it clear among his circles that he intends to ally with the March 14 coalition during the upcoming elections,” the PSP source said, adding that Jumblatt had recently sent a representative to the Lebanese Forces’ Martyrs Commemoration Day Saturday as a gesture of goodwill. The source also said that the PSP leader’s meeting with Hariri would pave the way for a yet-to-be-announced meeting between Jumblatt and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz.

The PSP leader’s ties with Saudi Arabia froze in early 2011 after he backed Najib Mikati to replace Hariri as prime minister after the resignation of March 8 ministers from the government. Several attempts by Jumblatt to restore ties with King Abdullah have so far been unsuccessful.

However, during a Ramadan iftar in Chouf, Mount Lebanon, Jumblatt said his alliance with Hezbollah could not continue under the slogan of the “Army, people and resistance,” in a possible sign of relations deteriorating between the two sides.

The PSP leader has three ministers in the Lebanese government that is dominated by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.

Future parliamentary bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat told The Daily Star Tuesday that communication between Hariri and Jumblatt had never been entirely severed.

“Jumblatt’s recent stances on the Syrian uprising helped restore bridges with Hariri,” he said, adding that the PSP and Future Movement always agreed on the need for safeguarding the country’s stability. Jumblatt has been a vocal critic of the Syrian regime and has voiced support for the Syrian people’s demands for democratic change in their country.

Asked if the meeting was a prelude to bringing down Mikati’s Cabinet, Fatfat said: “This Cabinet was established upon a regional, Syrian decision, and it will come down in the same manner.”

As for a possible parliamentary alliance between Jumblatt and the March 14 coalition, Fatfat said, “It is still too early to talk about the 2013 polls, but it is known that both Hariri and Jumblatt have recently criticized the [draft electoral law based on] proportional representation.”

President Michel Sleiman over the weekend signed the draft law, which was approved by the Cabinet in August. Hariri and Jumblatt have both criticized the bill, which divides Lebanon into 13 districts.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2012, on page 1.

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