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Siniora seeks assurances on Hezbollah arms use

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora talks to reporters in Sidon, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called on Hezbollah Sunday to reassure the Lebanese that its arms would not be used in any regional conflict, in a clear reference to the possibility of the party attacking Israel in response to any Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.The leader of the parliamentary Future bloc also stressed the need for Hezbollah to put its arsenal under the command of the Lebanese state in order for National Dialogue among rival factions to be productive.

“What is needed is for Hezbollah to put forward a clear and unambiguous statement that its weapons are Lebanese and will not be used for regional purposes in any form or beyond the Lebanese will in order for us to commence dialogue,” Siniora told reporters at his office in Hilaliyeh, a neighborhood in the southern city of Sidon.

Rejecting the presence of two powers – the state authority and Hezbollah’s arms in one land – Siniora said: “We say that these [Hezbollah’s] arms should eventually be put under the authority of the state, which must have the exclusive right to use them. This is what we are seeking from Dialogue.”

Siniora’s remarks came as officials from both sides of the political divide welcomed President Michel Sleiman’s proposal for a national defense strategy as a major step toward tackling the divisive issue of Hezbollah’s arms.

During a National Dialogue session he chaired at Baabda Palace Thursday, Sleiman presented to March 8 and March 14 leaders a defense strategy that would allow Hezbollah to keep its weapons but place them under the command of the Lebanese Army, which would have exclusive authority to use force.

Under the proposal, Hezbollah would not hand its arms over to the Army, as demanded by the opposition March 14 coalition, nor would there be coordination between the resistance and the Army, the defense strategy that Hezbollah has backed.

The March 14 coalition has long demanded that Hezbollah surrender its weapons to the Lebanese Army.

The resistance party has strongly rejected local and international calls to disarm, arguing that its arsenal was needed to face any possible Israeli attack on Lebanon.

Siniora criticized recent statements by Iranian officials that Hezbollah’s arms would be used against Israel if Iran’s nuclear plants were attacked by Israeli warplanes.

Reiterating that the Future bloc opposed any attack by Israel or another state on Iran, Siniora said: “But at the same time we cannot accept that our country becomes a launching pad for rockets and an arena to be used for purposes of confrontation. We reject that Hezbollah’s weapons be used to serve regional interests or regional battles.”

Siniora said his party would continue to attend National Dialogue, which he described as the “only way we can resolve issues that we are facing but on a clear and frank basis that we need to adhere to the rules of the Constitution, which sums up how the relationship among the Lebanese should be.”

He said Sleiman’s proposal for a national defense strategy would be deeply and thoroughly discussed and examined by the Future bloc.

“There is only one authority which has no substitute or competitor, that is the authority of the Lebanese state which must have the exclusive right in the issue of security and the issue of defending and protecting Lebanon and how to defend it,” Siniora added.

He recalled that decisions taken by previous Dialogue sessions have not been implemented, including the removal of arms from outside Palestinian refugees camps, the demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian borders, the lack of consensus on the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the handover of four Hezbollah members indicted by the STL of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Meanwhile, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour praised Sleiman’s blueprint as a basis for the rival parties to reach agreement on a national defense strategy.

“We consider President Sleiman’s plan for a defense strategy as a basis for a national debate [aimed] at ironing out differences and urging all the parties to show modesty and reach an agreement,” Abu Faour told a ceremony in Rashaya.

Abu Faour, who belongs to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said that while it was unlikely that the resistance would be disarmed, it was also unacceptable to strip the state of its authority and command.

He added that “rejection” of Sleiman’s defense strategy proposal by both sides of the political divide indicated that it was “the right [proposal] that can produce a national accord on this divisive issue.”

March 14 MP Marwan Hamade praised Sleiman’s proposal, but stressed that he was against any defense plan for the time being.

“Any defense plan now will consecrate the independence of Hezbollah’s arms from the Army, the state and the government’s decision,” he told MTV.

Hamade said he supported placing Hezbollah’s arms under the authority of the government and the Army. “The decision on the use of [Hezbollah’s] arms should be taken by the Lebanese Army on political orders taken by the government,” he added.

Hamade said he opposed Hezbollah’s monopoly over the decision of war and peace.

For his part, Future MP Ahmad Fatfat said he expected Sleiman’s proposal to lead to “a serious dialogue” on a national defense strategy if Hezbollah agreed to discuss the issue on the basis that its arms should be used only for defending Lebanon.

In an interview with MTV, Fatfat said Hezbollah’s failure to comment on recent Iranian statements meant that the party accepted what Iranian leaders have said. “This greatly contradicts with the contents of [Sleiman’s] proposal,” he said.

Last week, the Future bloc strongly denounced remarks made by the top commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard in which he said that he had sent some Guard members to Lebanon and Syria.

Sleiman has demanded official clarification from Tehran over remarks made by Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who said his forces have a number of high-level military advisers in Syria and Lebanon. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has denied that Iran had any military presence in the region, particularly in Syria.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 24, 2012, on page 3.

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