Lebanon News

Cabinet session in doubt amid reports of imminent indictment

BEIRUT: The fate of a “decisive” Cabinet session this week hung in the balance with no consensus apparent yet on how to tackle the thorny issue of “false witnesses,” political sources said Sunday.

Hizbullah said it would reject any indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, if it was not preceded by the investigation of “false witnesses” in the wake of unconfirmed Western reports indicating that the release of the indictment was imminent.

As The Daily Star went to press Sunday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri had yet to call for a Cabinet session for Wednesday. The sources said Hariri had not yet taken a final decision on whether to call for such a meeting prior to Monday midnight – the constitutional deadline – if the Cabinet is to convene Wednesday.

However, a March 8 coalition source told The Daily Star that Hizbullah and its allies would agree to the postponement of ministerial discussions only if a comprehensive solution was reached over a basket of disputed issues rather than the sole issue of “false witnesses.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the pan-Arab Al-Arabyia TV over the weekend that “five states expressed desire to reach a new agreement among the Lebanese,” according to the the daily An-Nahar.

Kouchner, who refused to elaborate further on the issue, said “it was not a problem if there is a need to amend existing agreements, despite the fact that the Taif Accord offered a lot.”

The March 8 source added that if regional contacts fail, the coalition deems Wednesday’s Cabinet session as decisive with regard to the settlement of the disputed issue of “false witnesses.”

Future Movement MP Oqab Saqr told New TV Sunday the prime minister had a “framework for a solution” but that he needed Hizbullah to listen him.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said over the weekend that his country would pursue along with Arab states efforts to preserve Lebanon’s security and stability but added that the success of such efforts was tied to the will of Lebanese leaders.

However, the March 8 source played down the possibility of a comprehensive solution, particularly in the wake of positions endorsed last week by STL officials and the UN Security Council.

The failure to hold a Cabinet meeting this week might delay ministerial discussions for two weeks given the official holiday to mark Eid al-Adha next week, while diplomatic US and French leaks indicate that the STL indictment would be released soon, a political source told The Daily Star.

Hizbullah’s Sheikh Naim Qassem said any indictment prior to investigations of “false witnesses” and uncovering those behind them would not be acknowledged by the party irrespective of its conclusion.

Qassem said Hizbullah supported a government vote Wednesday on whether to refer the issue of “false witnesses” to the Judicial Council in case consensus fails, accusing the March 14 coalition of seeking to conceal the truth behind witnesses who misled investigations.

While ambiguity surrounds the fate of the Cabinet meeting, a parliamentary March 14 source confirmed to The Daily Star that Hariri would host during the course of the week a meeting comprising all factions of the March 14 alliance at his residence in Downtown Beirut.

But the source refused to disclose the exact date for security reasons.

The meeting would follow a gathering of March 14 Christian leaders under the auspices of the Maronite Patriarchate after which attendees issued a statement warning against attempts to thwart the country’s democratic system in the wake of threats to abolish the STL.

Qassem said the STL was a US tool aimed at cornering Hizbullah, accusing parties calling on Hizbullah to cooperate with the tribunal of seeking to destroy the party and might even implicate Syria and Iran rather than only Hizbullah.

Qassem added that Hizbullah was prepared to counter any assault against it “whether an indirect or direct Israeli threat.”

“Didn’t you ever question US interests in supporting the tribunal and their emerging interest in justice?” Qassem asked.

But the Future Movement’s Saqr denied that March 14 parties have supported the establishment of the STL to pressure Hizbullah into bargaining over the party’s weapons.

Saqr said circulating scenarios simulating a Hizbullah takeover of Lebanese regions were aimed at intimidation, on the one hand, and on paving the way for a compromise on the other.

Saqr added that any decision by Hizbullah to repeat the May 7, 2008, events, would mean the party “will be writing the last chapter in its history and the coming days will prove that.”

Pro-Hizbullah gunmen overran Beirut after bloody clashes with pro-government militants on May 7, 2008, following the Cabinet’s decision  to dismantle Hizbullah’s telecommunications network.





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