BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Sunday for a new page in Lebanese-Syria ties away from power struggles between regional axes in order to guarantee Lebanon’s stability as thousands of Lebanese gathered in Beirut to mark the fifth anniversary of former Premier Rafik Hariri’s assassination. While the premier refrained from tackling Hizbullah’s weapons, Future Movement bloc head MP Fouad Siniora called along with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel for restricting the possession of arms and decisions of war and peace to the state’s authority.
But Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, once a leading figure of the March 14 alliance, left the rally before the speeches began after he and his son Taymour, who remained till the end of the event, said a prayer in Rafik Hariri’s memory.
Earlier Sunday, Jumblatt held a meeting with Saad Hariri at the latter’s residence in Downtown Beirut after which he accompanied the premier to the Martyrs Square.
The assassination of Hariri in 2005 led to the rise of the March 14 alliance whose leaders accused Syria of being involved in the murder and pressed for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559, ending 25 years of military presence.
Jumblatt withdrew from the coalition following the June 2009 elections. He then moved closer to Syria’s allies in Lebanon in an attempt to bridge the gap with President Bashar Assad after he had called in 2005 for the removal of the Syrian regime.
“My visit to Syria was part of a big window that Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz opened … and I am keen on keeping this window open, and establishing a new era in Lebanese-Syrian relations, from one sovereign, free and independent state to another,” Hariri said.
Hariri also stressed that no compromise would take place at the expense of the Taif Accord or the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
“There will be no room for compromise when it comes to national dignity, democratic principles, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the Taif Accord or parity between Christians and Muslims and Lebanon First will remain our slogan,” he said.
The premier also underlined the importance of national unity and cooperation among the Lebanese to preserve national stability and enforce the state’s authority, adding that his visit to Syria was part of larger Arab reconciliations.
“Lebanese benefit from Arab solidarity is a strategic interest since Lebanon is majorly harmed if involved in axes games, and Arab reconciliation is an opportunity not to be missed,” Hariri added.
Hariri also reiterated support for the “Lebanon First” slogan and called for solidarity against Israeli threats.
“Stability is in the interest of Lebanon First, Arab reconciliation is in the interest of Lebanon First, Solidarity against Israeli threats is in the interest of Lebanon First, rejecting causes of civil strife is in the interest of Lebanon First,” Hariri added.
Meanwhile, former President Gemayel called for restricting possession of weapons to the state’s institutions.
Gemayel also expressed support for Hariri’s openness toward Syria but demanded from Damascus a specific timeline to settle disputed issues between both countries.
“We want the best possible ties with Syria but we want at the same time Syria to be convinced of Lebanon as a sovereign state and independent country with a special political regime in the region,” Gemayel said.
“We appreciate Premier Saad Hariri’s courage as he overcame his personal wounds to the benefit of Lebanon and we ask Syria to take practical steps in return,” Gemayel added.
Gemayel also called for grabbing the opportunity during national dialogue sessions to undertake true reconciliations among the Lebanese rather than circumstantial compromises, which he said only lead to more obstruction and paralysis in the state’s institutions.
“I suggest that the national dialogue table under the sponsorship of the president and in cooperation with the premier and all national leaders be an opportunity not to only discuss the national strategy but to undertake practical reconciliation which tackles the Lebanese problem in depth,” Gemayel said.
The Phalange Party head added that Lebanon’s stability and security were those of Syria and vice versa.
Echoing Gemayel, Former Premier Siniora stressed that the March 14 alliance rejected that any side enforced its opinion through the use of force or weapons, while voicing hope that Hariri’s visit to Damascus would open a new page of understanding and cooperation in respect with both countries sovereignty.
“We are committed to promoting reforms and development based on democratic and peaceful principles and we will not accept that any side imposes its opinion upon us by force or weapons,” Siniora said, a reference to Hizbullah’s arms.
Siniora also stressed that the only resolution to Lebanon’s problems would be to spread the state’s authority over all its territories, as he rejected “control by militias and status quo powers.”
“We instigated and participated in resisting the Israeli enemy and we will remain ready to resist it united if we are aggressed but we will do our best in order to deny the Israelis an opportunity or pretext to destroy our country,” Siniora said.
Meanwhile, Geagea said weapons outside the state’s authority were a burden on the Lebanese state since arms drew foreign aggression. He also urged Lebanese leaders to refrain from dragging Lebanon “into fire in defense of regional interests or nuclear ones,” a reference to Iran’s nuclear program.
“Leaders of the other side are called to take a courageous national stance and hand their military capabilities to the Lebanese state since war and peace decisions should be taken by the Cabinet only,” Geagea said.
Geagea also stressed the alliance’s commitment to international resolutions 425, 1559, 1680 and 1701 while underlining that no compromise would take place concerning the tribunal.
He urged Sleiman and Hariri to prevent certain parties from turning the national unity Cabinet into a paralyzed government.
Commenting on Hariri’s speech later Sunday, Jumblatt said the premier’s statements were acceptable and objective but he added that he disagreed with the “Lebanon First” slogan since it contradicted his principle.
Jumblatt said he agreed with Hariri to establish special ties with Syria after its withdrawal from Lebanon, adding that he would visit Syria for the benefit of national interests and that of the Druze community, similarly to a visit he undertook following his father Kamal Jumblatt’s assassination.
Conversely, Deputy head of the Shiite Higher Council Abdel Amir Qabalan condemned turning the February 14 anniversary into an occasion to instigate civil strife among the Lebanese, while stressing that Hizbullah’s weapons would remain as long as the Zionist entity continued to exist.
Separately, US President Barack Obama expressed to Hariri his strong support and that of the American people to the Lebanese premier and people as both leaders emphasized the need to support the tribunal’s work to bring those responsible for the assassination to justice.
The tribunal was established in 2007 by the UN Security Council under Resolution 1557, which endorsed a prior agreement between Lebanon and the UN in 2006 based on Resolution 1664.
A statement issued by the white house press office stressed Obama’s continued support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence as the US president expressed his keenness to cooperate with Hariri to push the Mideast peace process forward.
President Obama and Premier Hariri discussed Lebanese-American bilateral ties including American support to Lebanese Armed Forces,” the statement said.
The statement added that the US was committed to the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, 1680 and 1701, adding that the US looked forward to cooperating with Lebanon as partner in UN Security Council in the upcoming two years.