BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed Monday that he would not withdraw support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) amid demands by Hizbullah for the adoption an official Lebanese position accusing Israel of the murder.
Hariri made his remarks while addressing Future Movement MPs during a meeting of his bloc at his residence in downtown Beirut, according to MP Ammar Houri.
With parties trading accusations over the tribunal, March 14 lawmakers on Monday slammed Hizbullah’s recent display of force at the Rafik Hariri International airport, while Hizbullah MPs reiterated their condemnation of the STL as an Israeli project aimed against the resistance.
According to Houri, Hariri underscored during his bloc’s meeting his openness toward Damascus as well as his commitment to the remarks he made earlier this month to pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat.
Hariri told the Saudi newspaper that he had made a mistake when he accused Syria of involvement in his father’s murder and slammed false witnesses who “misled investigations and did harm to Syrian-Lebanese ties by politicizing the murder.”
Hariri also stressed the importance of the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement and its positive repercussions on Lebanon’s stability, while condemning the “logic of a failed state” in an indirect reference to Hizbullah’s support to former General Jamil al-Sayyed’s position.
But Hariri underlined his movement’s commitment to civil peace and stability while highlighting “the presence of safety valves” to safeguard Lebanon against strife.
Commenting on Hariri’s commitment to remarks published by Asharq al-Awsat with regard to investigating false witnesses, MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star that “we are calling for such an investigation,” but added that “it is part of the judiciary’s prerogatives.”
Hariri, who held talks with President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday ahead of a Cabinet session scheduled for Tuesday, is expected to publicly address the latest developments “in the upcoming two days,” Houri said.
According to well-informed sources, Hariri stressed during talks with Sleiman that he sought a calm government meeting on Tuesday.
On Monday, Sleiman, Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt avoided taking sides with any of the rival political sides while media reports said the president would urge all parties to assume their responsibilities during Tuesday’s Cabinet session.
For their part, Berri’s Amal Movement MPs urged parties to restrict dialogue to the state institutions and refrain from discourse that could threaten civil peace.
Visitors of Sleiman quoted the president as saying that during the Cabinet session, which precedes his departure to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting, “he will remind all parties of their responsibilities.”
But well-informed ministerial sources told The Daily Star that the Cabinet session is expected to be a “stormy one” on Tuesday. According to the sources, Hariri would address recent political developments during the Cabinet session.
The ministerial source voiced fears that Hariri’s remarks during Tuesday’s session would lead to heated discussions which could push opposition ministers to withdraw from the Cabinet like they did in 2006.
Ministers of Hizbullah and Amal withdrew from the Cabinet in 2006 following debate over the establishment of the UN-backed tribunal into former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder.
Their withdrawal led to a two-year political stalemate which ended with the formation of a national unity cabinet following the Doha Accord that halted bloody clashes between pro-government and opposition gunmen.
Hizbullah MP Ali Fayyad on Monday tied stability in Lebanon to putting false witnesses on trial, while calling on Lebanon to adopt an official position accusing Israel of the murder.
“Stability in Lebanon and putting things in normal order again requires two small steps which are huge in their repercussions: opening the judicial case of false witnesses and the adoption of an official Lebanese position accusing Israel of the murder,” he said.
“These two steps will move the Lebanese situation to another completely different scenario,” he added.
Separately, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s official spokesman expressed his country’s concerns over the latest developments in Lebanon and criticized Hizbullah without identifying the party by name. “The reason for concern is not only restricted to the challenge posed by some Lebanese groups that are backed by weapons [outside the state’s judicial and executive authority] but extends to cover the whole Lebanese situation in light of the recent developments,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Oqab Saqr said Monday that March 14 parties also sought to bring false witnesses and those who encouraged them to trial.
“Hussam Hussam is present in Syria, so let them tell us who backed him”?” Saqr asked, while denying that the Internal Security Forces (ISF) were in contact with false witnesses.
Hussam, one of the former witnesses in Hariri’s case who later recanted his testimony, is a Syrian national currently residing in Syria, where he previously held public news conferences.
Sayyed had accused State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza, along with head of ISF Ashraf Rifi and head of the Information Branch of the ISF Wissam Hassan of backing false witnesses whose testimonies led to his arrest in 2005 for suspicion of involvement in Hariri’s murder.
Saqr also lashed out at Hizbullah’s armed presence at Sayyed’s news conference on Saturday at the airport.
“What Hizbullah showed at the airport proves that [military] force governs,” Saqr said in reference to a Hizbullah convoy that escorted Sayyed from the plane and allowed him access to the airport’s guest hall, where the latter held his news conference without previous authorization from the Foreign Ministry.
Saqr also accused Sayyed of leaking a report published by German magazine Deir Speigel that said the impending indictment by the STL would accuse rogue Hizbullah elements of involvement in the murder.
In a statement issued by Sayyed’s press office in response to Saqr, the former head of General Security said he refused to make any comments, adding that his “problem is with the leader of the Future Movement Prime Minister Saad Hariri.”
Meanwhile, Mustapha Nasser, a journalist who reportedly coordinated previous meetings between Hariri and Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said Monday in a statement that media reports “concerning a certain mediation that I undertook are inaccurate claims.”
Saqr had accused Sayyed of demanding, during a meeting with Nasser, $15 million from Hariri to drop his accusations against the premier. “This middle man is not a broker but an honest man,” Saqr said earlier Monday, adding that “Nasser informed Hariri that Sayyed asked for $ 15 million before lowering it to $12 million and then $7 million.”