Lebanon News

Hizbullah and allies plan to boycott National Dialogue session

BEIRUT: Hizbullah and some of its allies will boycott Thursday’s National Dialogue, one day after the Cabinet postponed discussions over the issue of “false witnesses” with March 8 parties insisting to put controversies related to the UN-backed tribunal on the top of the government’s agenda.

A political source told The Daily Star that talks between President Michel Sleiman and March 8 officials late Wednesday failed to convince the president to postpone the National Dialogue committee meeting.

Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Franjieh, one of the figures boycotting the session, said it was better to postpone the committee’s meeting rather than risking a dispute during the session under the present circumstances.

Franjieh’s decision endorsed by his ally, Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan came after Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun threatened Tuesday to suspend his participation in case the Cabinet fails to address the issue of “false witnesses.”

Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt will also miss discussions due to their travel schedule while Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea will take part.

Hariri, who met with Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel-Aziz in Morocco, is expected to arrive in Beirut Thursday.

Despite demands by Hizbullah for Lebanese officials to boycott the STL and describing cooperation with its investigators as aiding an attack against the resistance, Hariri said he would not cut ties with the UN-backed tribunal, expressing full backing for the court.

Hariri insisted dialogue was the best way out of the current standoff with Hizbullah and downplayed the risk of unrest.

“I think what is dangerous is not to [hold] dialogue about the issues that are really difficult in the country, and I think this is one of the difficult issues in Lebanon,” he added.

“The work of the tribunal is ongoing and there are many investigators in Lebanon, and they are doing their own work,” Hariri told the BBC in an interview late Tuesday.

While Hizbullah and its allies are adamant on referring the issue of “false witnesses” to the Judicial Council, the Hariri- led coalition insists the issue could not be investigated before an indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is released and testimonies are made public.

Phalange Party MP Elie Marouni said the postponement of the Cabinet meeting aimed at allowing time to reach a compromise over the issue.

But Hizbullah argues that tackling the issue of “false witnesses” could alter the course of investigations being carried out by the STL, which March 8 parties accused of seeking to frame members of the resistance in the murder.

In implied reference to Hizbullah’s staunch ally, Iran, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit said stability in Lebanon remains under pressure owing to non-Arab influence.

Abu al-Gheit said pressures exerted on the Lebanese community, which escalated tension in Lebanon, should be stopped.

But Agriculture Minister and Hizbullah official Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the US of exploiting the STL to raise sectarian tension in Lebanon and deal a blow to inter-Arab ties.

Hassan said US Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Jeffrey Feltman’s regional visits aimed to hinder inter-Arab efforts seeking to end the deadlock over STL-related controversies.

Feltman reiterated, during a visit to Lebanon last month arriving from Saudi Arabia, his country’s support for the STL. The US provided Wednesday $10 million in funding of the STL.

Hassan added that the US aimed to serve Israeli regional interests by promoting divisions in Lebanon while STL investigators spy on the resistance.

Some analysts fear that an indictment involving Hizbullah members could fuel Shiite-Sunni tensions that might break out in armed clashes.

While Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned against cooperating with STL investigators, Hizbullah official and MP Nawaf Moussawi said those who support an STL indictment against the resistance would face the same fate as “Zionist aggressors.”

 

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