BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said he will not return to Lebanon for now because of what he called a decision to assassinate him, political sources said Monday.
The head of the Future Movement also underlined the need for Lebanon to distance itself from the turmoil in Syria in order to preserve the interests of Lebanese expatriates working in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
“I will not return to Lebanon for the time being because there is a decision to kill me,” Hariri told a delegation from the Economic Committees at his residence in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, Sunday, according to the sources.
The opposition March 14 coalition has in the past accused the Syrian regime of responsibility for the killing of a number of the coalition’s lawmakers and politicians, including the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Hariri, who has been living abroad for nearly two years for security reasons, said the Syrian crisis would come to an end soon with the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
“The rebels will succeed in removing Bashar Assad from power,” he was quoted as telling the delegation.
The 2-year-old bloody conflict in Syria has sharply split the Lebanese. While the Future Movement and its March 14 partners strongly support the armed rebellion against Assad’s government, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies back the regime.
Hariri and the delegation “stressed the importance of distancing Lebanon as much as possible from the effects of the Syrian crisis as well as the need to stop placing Lebanon’s interests and those of the Lebanese at risk,” according to a statement from Hariri’s office.
They also urged rival political Lebanese leaders to adopt “a rational political speech toward Gulf states that have represented and still represent a safety valve for Lebanon’s security, growth and development.”
Ties between the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and Lebanon were strained recently after remarks by MP Michel Aoun on the uprising in Bahrain sparked the ire of the GCC, which viewed his remarks as interference in Manama’s internal affairs. The GCC groups Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.
The GCC last week sent a letter to President Michel Sleiman voicing extreme concern over Lebanon’s failure to abide by its declared policy of disassociation on regional conflicts, particularly the crisis in Syria.
Before meeting Hariri, the delegation of the Economic Committees had met in Riyadh with Saudi Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who denied rumors that Saudi Arabia planned to take measures against Lebanese nationals living in the kingdom or withdraw its money from Lebanese banks in protest at the failure to comply with the disassociation policy.
Hariri praised the role of the Economic Committees which he said had contributed to the resilience of the Lebanese economy and the maintenance of growth despite the local and regional circumstances.
Hariri and the delegation stressed “the importance of holding the June 9 elections on time in order to help consolidate stability in Lebanon.”
In a bid to contain tension with the GCC, a delegation of March 14 lawmakers visited a number of ambassadors and heads of GCC missions in Lebanon Monday.
The delegation discussed the memo the GCC sent to Sleiman and were told that Gulf states were keen on maintaining unity and peace in Lebanon and embracing Lebanese working there, the state-run National News Agency reported.
MPs Marwan Hamadeh, Fadi Karam and Jamal Jarrah criticized practices and stances of Hezbollah and its allies in Syria and in the Arab world.
The delegation also condemned statements by March 8 ministers, including Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour’s remarks last week to the Arab League which it said were “harmful to the interests of Lebanese and Lebanon.”
During an Arab League meeting in Cairo last week, Mansour called for reinstating Syria’s membership, sparking the ire of the Lebanese opposition, which accused him of deviating from the disassociation policy.Meanwhile, the fate of the parliamentary elections remain uncertain with the rival factions unable to agree on a new electoral law to replace the 1960 law.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said his party was trying with the Future Movement to reach a consensual electoral law that combines the proportional representation and winner-takes-all systems.
In an article to be published in the PSP’s weekly Al-Anbaa newspaper Tuesday, Jumblatt warned that a postponement of the elections would be “a leap into the unknown and a step backward.”
“If we reach a stage of a caretaker Cabinet, this will put the entire country at risk politically, economically and at the security level,” he said.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, also warned failure to hold elections on time would entail “risks” to the country.
“The first issue is holding the elections and the formation of a new Cabinet according to the Constitution. There is a third issue which is the presidential elections,” Siniora said in an interview with Al-Jazeera channel. “Failure to hold the elections is a thorny issue that carries with it problems and risks.”
Siniora again blasted the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal, saying it would cause problems to Lebanon and the region: “It is a reactionary proposal because it calls on sects to elect their own representatives. This contradicts the spirit of the Constitution.”
Both the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party called for the elections to be held on time based on a new voting system.
A statement issued after a weekly meeting of the Kataeb Party’s Political Bureau chaired by former President Amin Gemayel said the current situation required “an electoral law that can gain national consensus and that the elections be held on time.”
The parliamentary LF bloc, which met under LF leader Samir Geagea in Maarab, stressed the need for the elections to be held on time based on a new law.
“The bloc stressed the need to work to reach a new electoral law that can achieve true representation and equality among the Lebanese and gain Lebanese unanimity,” said a statement issued after the meeting.