BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said Wednesday that Syria has lost a great man with the passing of retired Gen.
Hikmat Shehabi, whom he lauded for defending Lebanon’s unity and restoring its stability after the Civil War. In a statement, Jumblatt praised the contribution of the late Shehabi in safeguarding Arabism in Lebanon and preventing the country from fragmenting during 1975-1990 Civil War.
“We should of course remember the great role that Gen. Shehabi played in supporting Lebanese national groups to prevent the partition of Lebanon through confrontations with Israel and its local allies, thwarting schemes that targeted Arabism in Lebanon,” Jumblatt said. Syria had thousands of troops stationed in Lebanon between 1976 and 2005.
Jumblatt paid tribute to Shehabi for the “heroic performance” of the Syrian army in Lebanon after they confronted Israeli troops in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut in the summer of 1982 and its role in abolishing the May 17 treaty (peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel of 1983). He also commended Syria’s supporting role in implementing the Taif Accord which drew the Civil War to a close.
Shehabi, who was the Syrian army chief of staff between 1974 and 1998, died Tuesday at the age of 82. Syrian state television announced the news but did not specify the cause of death.
“He witnessed the most delicate and difficult phases that Syria and the Arab region have ever experienced,” Jumblatt added.
Jumblatt said that in April 2011 he met Shehabi in Paris, shortly after the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began.
“He said this expressive phrase to me: ‘Walid, the Syria we know will never be the same.’ The late general figured out during the first days of the Deraa events [in March 2011] that matters would become worse if nothing was done, so he asked for an appointment with Bashar Assad, which he never got.”
Jumblatt lamented that just as Shehabi predicted, “Syria is burning and dying amid unprecedented international silence and its people have been left to their own devices.”
“The late general maintained close ties with the Druze sect and he dismissed rumors that spread after the [Arab-Israeli] war of 1967, that the Druze facilitated the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights,” he said.
“I also remember on this occasion him encouraging me to contact the Druze in occupied Palestine with whom he was very eager I meet,” Jumblatt said. “This reflects his fixed convictions regarding the nobility and Arabism of the Druze people and his belief that their usual position is in opposition to the Israeli occupation alongside their Arab brothers.”
In separate remarks published Wednesday, Jumblatt said he supports the radical Islamist Nusra Front that is fighting against the Syrian regime.
“I stand by the side of the Nusra Front against the Syrian regime. The Syrian people have the right to cooperate with the devil, except with Israel, to confront the regime,” Jumblatt told a local newspaper.