BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned Monday against strife in Lebanon, a day after attacks on four Muslim sheikhs raised tensions in the country, and said President Bashar Assad would not hesitate to “use the blood of Lebanese” to save his government from falling.
“Some are working in secret and in public to plunge Lebanon into a series of suspicious incidents and shameful acts, such as the attack against the sheikhs in Beirut and the southern suburb,” said Hariri, according to a statement from his office.
“Such acts aim to incite strife between the sons of one homeland in the service of regional sides that benefit from moving the flames from one Arab country to another,” Hariri, who has repeatedly warned against a spillover from the Syria crisis, added.
Sheikh Mazen Hariri and Sheikh Ahmad Fekhran, two Sunni Muslim scholars, were attacked in Beirut’s Khandak al-Ghamik Sunday evening shortly after leaving the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in the downtown area. In a separate incident Sunday, Sheikh Ibrahim Abd al-Lattif and Sheikh Omar Imani were attacked in Shiyah on their way to Chtaura in the Bekaa Valley.
The attacks on the Muslim preachers, scholars at Dar al-Fatwa – Lebanon’s highest Sunni Authority – almost plunged the country into chaos after road blockades were put up in Beirut as well as in the southern city of Sidon and in east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
The Lebanese Army said in a statement Sunday that at least five people were arrested for taking part in the attacks.
Hariri, who heads the Future Movement, blamed Syria President Bashar Assad for sparking Sunni-Shiite strife in Lebanon and accused him of trying to use Lebanon to save his regime.
“I do not want to anticipate the results of the judiciary efforts or put forward any stance, but the situation is much more dangerous than trying to solve it with tranquilizers and resorting to the policy of fleeing forward,” he said.
“There is a regional side, precisely the regime of Bashar Assad, that does not want Lebanon to rest, but finds in igniting discord among the Lebanese, specifically between Sunnis and Shiites, a weapon in the face of the Arabs and the world that would save this regime from falling,” he said.
“Yes, Bashar Assad wants to save his regime using the blood of the Lebanese and he will not hesitate to use the filthiest means to do so,” the staunch critic of the embattled Syrian leader said.
Hariri said that Assad had already tried to employ former Minister Michel Samaha to carry out attacks against Lebanese politicians and religious figures and is now trying to use “armed gangs and allies infiltrated by various forms of criminals, assassins and drug addicts and outlaws.”
Samaha, a longtime ally of the Syrian leadership, was arrested by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch last year on charges of transporting explosives from Syria and plotting terror attacks in Lebanon aimed at killing political and religious figures.
An indictment by the military investigative judge Riad Abu Ghayda last month requested the death penalty for Samaha, and two Syrian officials said to be his accomplices in crime, Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, and his aide, Col. Adnan, whose family name remains unknown.
Hariri urged authorities to get to the bottom of the attacks that targeted the religious figures.
“The timing of the incident raises a lot of questions and holds judicial and security authorities responsible for revealing the real background of such actions without throwing the blame on criminals and drug addicts and similar ready-made exits to circumvent the incident,” he said.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Sunday that the identities of the perpetrators were known to the Lebanese Army and police, adding that several of the attackers were under the influence of drugs.
Hariri said there was an immediate need for Lebanese to unite to counter attempts at sparking strife.
“The Lebanese, in their various spiritual and political groups, must be aware of these facts, consider the state as their only reference and reject blinding policies that target their security, peace and national unity,” he said.
“They should strengthen their solidarity against discord more than ever before,” he added.
Hariri slammed those seeking to stir strife in the country, saying “history will be merciful” to them, adding: “[History] will certainly not have mercy on those who are working to save Bashar Assad at the expense of Lebanon's stability and the coexistence between his citizens.”