BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun said Saturday he would welcome a rapprochement with his rival former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, amid reports of a resumption of contacts between the two sides, but said he would refuse to be part of a Cabinet that singles out Hezbollah.
Aoun, in a wide ranging interview with Al-Nour radio station, also spoke about the recent clashes in Sidon, south Lebanon, between the Army and Salafist gunmen, saying the development had aimed to target the resistance group.
The head of the Free Patriotic Movement also predicted that there would be more bombings in Lebanon targeting Shiite areas in particular.
“We [would] welcome a rapprochement with [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri and anybody else in the interest of Lebanese,” Aoun told the radio station, saying his talks with Saudi Ambassador Ali Asiri earlier this month had been cordial.
He also noted that Saudi Arabia sought to be close to all factions in Lebanon for the sake of stability and said the envoy’s criticism of Hezbollah, which has drawn the ire of the resistance group, merely reflected Riyadh’s foreign policy.
Following Speaker Nabih Berri’s announcement last week that the March 8 coalition had collapsed, media reports emerged suggesting a resumption of contacts between Hariri and Aoun, who heads the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc.
Berri and Aoun have been at odds over a number of issues including the recent extension of Parliament’s mandate as well as attempts to raise the retirement age of Lebanese Army Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
“Politically, Berri and I agree on things and disagree on others,” Aoun told the radio station.
However, Aoun and Hezbollah have repeatedly stated that their alliance, based on a memorandum of understanding signed in 2006, remains intact.
Aoun reiterated his position toward the resistance group Saturday.
“The strategic understanding with Hezbollah will not change, although there are domestic issues that should be dealt with decisively,” the former Army general said.
He said there were absolute principles, such as coexistence and the defense of Lebanon, that would never change, urging others to recognize and sign the memorandum.
Aoun also spoke of the June clashes in the Sidon neighborhood of Abra, where an Army crackdown against supporters of anti-Hezbollah preacher Ahmad Assir led to the killing of at least 18 soldiers and 28 fighters. The crackdown was triggered by an attack on a military checkpoint in the area.
The March 14 alliance has accused Hezbollah of taking part in the fighting and demanded a thorough probe into the events in Abra including cases of alleged misconduct by soldiers toward detainees.
“There is someone who wants Hezbollah's head and that's why they accused it of fighting with the Army in Abra ... and accused the Army of allying itself with Hezbollah,” Aoun said, adding that the Army “is the ally of the whole nation.”
He also said the purpose of the clashes in Abra was to drag Hezbollah into a Lebanese war and incite Sunni-Shiite strife.
“Assir was the first one to initiate the clashes and he is the first loser,” Aoun added.
The FPM chief also said there “were a possibility more bombings like the Bir al-Abed car bombing will take place in order to destabilize and shake the security [situation].”
A car bombing exploded in the bustling neighborhood of Bir al-Abed, a Hezbollah stronghold, wounding over 50 people, in the second attack this year against Beirut’s southern suburbs.
“The [main target] for those behind the bombing are popular Shiite areas, [the target] is the Lebanese Shiite fabric, which is a guarantor for Lebanon that will not allow things to escalate as in the Iraqi situation,” Aoun said.
On the issue of forming a new government under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, whose efforts have so far failed to yield tangible results, Aoun rejected a Cabinet that excludes Hezbollah.
“If Hezbollah is not part of the government, we won’t either,” he said, adding that contacts with Salam have not been fruitful.
“I am convinced that there won't be a government any time soon and it is possible that the formation process will take months,” he said.