BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman has said he will not back off from his firm stance on the case of explosives linked to former Minister Michel Samaha, who along with two senior Syrian officials has been charged with a terror plot to destabilize Lebanon.Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri lashed out at Lebanon’s dissociation policy on the 18-month turmoil in Syria. He described it as “shameful,” saying it exposed Lebanon to attacks by its neighboring country.
Sleiman said he had discussed the issue of explosives seized by Lebanese authorities during a meeting with Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi and Foreign Minister Affairs Minister Walid al-Moallem in Tehran on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit held in Iran last month.
Sleiman expressed hope that there was no relation between Syrian government officials and the seized explosives.
Responding to critics who accused him of holding a behind-the-scene meeting with the two Syrian officials, Sleiman said at a ceremony in his hometown of Amsheet, north of Beirut, Saturday: “There was no secret meeting in Iran, and I am not accustomed to holding secret meetings. The meeting was held in public but there were no reporters in the hall at the time.”
He added that it was the Syrian premier and foreign minister who approached him to shake hands.
“We discussed the situation. What I told them was the same as what I said on the first day the explosives were seized,” Sleiman said.
Samaha, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, was arrested last month and then later charged by the Military Tribunal with plotting terror attacks in Lebanon.
Samaha, Syrian National Security Bureau head Ali Mamlouk and a Syrian army officer identified as Brig. Gen. Adnan were also accused of planning to incite sectarian clashes through terrorist attacks with explosives that Samaha transported to Lebanon and stored after taking possession of them from Mamlouk and Adnan.
In the days following the discovery of the explosives, the president described reports of the possible terrorist plots in the country as frightening, but praised security agencies’ work in foiling such plans.
In Saturday’s speech, Sleiman said he thanked God that the explosives had been seized, saying he would not retract his praise of the Internal Security Forces for their efforts in uncovering the terror plot.
“I want to congratulate the Internal Security Forces and [Interior] Minister Marwan Charbel, who is the head of these forces, particularly for their seizure of these explosives which, had they exploded, could have resulted in the death of hundreds of victims in Lebanon,” he said. “I will never retract this congratulation.
“I stress that we will not resort to accusations. This case is in the hands of the judiciary on which I call to do its job and judge with justice.”
Meanwhile, Hariri said the Lebanese government’s policy to dissociate Lebanon from the developments in Syria left the country exposed to attacks from the Assad regime.
“The official Lebanese [dissociation] stance regarding these issues is shameful and should not continue,” Hariri said in an interview published Saturday in the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat.
The leader of the Future Movement said that not having a stance on the developments in Syria, where fighting between government troops and armed rebel groups has claimed the lives of up to 26,000 since March 2011 according to opposition monitors, did not serve Lebanon’s interest.
“Some say that self-distancing is in Lebanon’s interest, but not having a position is not in the interest of protecting Lebanon,” Hariri said.
“Protecting Lebanon is [achieved] by preventing the Syrian regime from interfering in Lebanese affairs and exposing Lebanese territories and citizens to military actions carried out by the Syrian forces in Akkar and the Bekaa,” Hariri added.
He said the government’s dissociation policy left Lebanon exposed to attacks by Syria. “The self-distancing policy allows the Syrian regime to shell Lebanese villages,” Hariri said, referring to several incidents when Syrian forces have fired artillery across the border at villages they claim are harboring armed anti-regime groups.
Hariri praised Sleiman for his stance on Syria’s repeated violations of the Lebanese border which he described as “advanced” compared to the government’s “ambiguous positions.”
Hariri, the head of the opposition March 14 coalition, said one means of responding to violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty would be for Lebanon to bring the matter up with the Security Council, expel the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon and “protect our borders with all possible means, including the call for the deployment of international forces along the northern and eastern borders.”
In a memo to Sleiman last week, the March 14 coalition called for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers along the northern border with Syria in response to Damascus’ repeated violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Hariri, one of Assad’s staunchest critics in Lebanon, also told Al-Hayat that the fall of the Syrian regime would shed new light on the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. “Look at what happened in Libya. Many things emerged after the fall of the regime, in terms of aircraft bombings like the Lockerbie case or the case of Imam Musa Sadr. These things were impossible to reach and now they are public.”
Imam Musa Sadr, an influential figure in Lebanese politics and founder of the Amal movement, his companions Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub and journalist Abbas Badreddine vanished during an official visit to Libya on Aug. 31, 1978.
Probes into the Sadr case were at a standstill under Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s reign, but have gained momentum following his fall.
Hariri said as in the case of Libya, “the fall of the Syrian regime will reveal who assassinated Rafik Hariri and what was the role of this murderous regime, which, we have always said, is linked somewhere to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and this will be revealed.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea hit back at Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad for slamming the March 14 coalition’s memo to Sleiman on Syria’s violations of Lebanese territory.
At a news conference Friday, Raad said the March 14 memo was aimed covering up the opposition group’s “involvement and participation in the aggression against Syria through money, arms and fighters.”
“Raad’s party is using the Palestine cause as a pretext and an excuse for every detail,” Geagea said during a dialogue session on “Lebanon’s role in the new Arab world renaissance” held at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut, Friday night. He added that Palestine was “not a genuine issue for Hezbollah, except in specific times and depending on circumstances.”