Lebanon News

France denies reports it attempted to delay STL

BEIRUT: France has denied any efforts to delay an indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), amid warnings by Hizbullah’s allies that an accusation against the party would break out in civil strife.

But the Future Movement and its leader Prime Minister Saad Hariri have reiterated that no compromises will occur at the expense of the STL despite the ongoing escalatory discourse.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal made his comments on Friday  in response to remarks published by the daily An-Nahar newspaper the previous day, that French Ambassador Denis Pietton did not deny the possibility that French-Saudi contacts could delay the indictment.

The spokesman also stressed that the UN-backed tribunal works independently of any French or foreign influence.

“[Ambassador Pietton] does not deny that a number of contacts happened between Saudi Arabia and the French capital, which could have contributed to delay the indictment from September to before year end,” An-Nahar reported on Friday.

Nadal added that remarks in the media do not reflect Pietton’s stance, saying the latter did not make “any official statement or hints” on the issue.

Pietton’s alleged stance coincided with comments from Hizbullah’s second-in-command Sheikh Naim Qassem Qassem, that his party had given time for Saudi efforts to “redress the twisted course” of the UN probe, which he said was clearly bent on issuing “an unjust indictment.”

Hizbullah, which condemns the STL as an Israeli project, has made it clear the party will not stand neutral if the indictment accuses members of Hizbullah of involvement in former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder.

According to An-Nahar, Pietton said France sought to assure Hizbullah that an indictment, if it occurs, would not accuse the party but rather some of its members and that France would continue to deal with Hizbullah as a major constituent of the Lebanese community represented in the Cabinet and Parliament.

But Speaker Nabih Berri said in remarks published in the daily As-Safir Friday that Pietton’s statements “do not reassure Hizbullah but on the contrary confirm the party’s fear as well as ours of the indictment.”

Hizbullah ally, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh warned that an indictment against Hizbullah would lead to war in Lebanon, and urged the Lebanese to abolish the UN-backed tribunal in order to avoid civil strife.

In a televised interview on Thursday night, Franjieh said the “Lebanese scene was awaiting a spark” that would ignite Sunni-Shiite strife based on an international decision to kick off a Lebanese war.

“Compromise is necessary because it will take place anyway after the conflict ends but at our expense,” Franjieh said.

“If the STL means strife in Lebanon, why not abolish it?”

In response to Franjieh, Hariri told An-Nahar in remarks published on Friday that the Marada Movement’s statements “do not change anything and our position is clear: no compromises regarding the STL.”

The Future Movement bloc said in a short statement issued the same day that it fully endorses its leader’s stances while expressing the movement’s commitment to the STL as well as “elements that preserve civil peace and stability in Lebanon.”

In response to Franjieh’s comments, Future Movement MP Mohammad Qabbara said civil strife required the presence of two armed groups willing to participate in it.

“But for now, there is only one side and that is Hizbullah. As for us, we have neither weapons nor did we take a decision [to start a war] but rather we reject being dragged to one.”

In line with Syrian-Saudi efforts to ease tensions on the Lebanese scene over the course of the week, the General Consul of the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut Ahmad Hilmi held talks with Hizbullah Arab Relations officer Sheikh Hassan Ezzedine at the latter’s office.

The visit followed a rise in tensions between Egypt and Hizbullah after recent criticism of Hilmi by Hizbullah ally former Major General Jamil al-Sayyed for instigating strife between Lebanese.

A statement from Hizbullah’s office said the talks tackled the need to promote Egyptian-Lebanese bilateral ties to strengthen trust, overcome hurdles and enforce the position of Lebanon and Arab states.

Also on Friday, Hariri held talks with Egyptian Ambassador Ahmad Fouad al-Beddawi at the premier’s residence in downtown Beirut.

Separately, Sayyed reiterated accusations against Hariri and a number of security and judicial officials for fabricating false witnesses while Hizbullah officials continued to demand investigating false witnesses to discover who was behind them.

Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar is to submit to the Cabinet his recommendations on the legal framework governing the issue of false witnesses, amid ongoing demands from opposition officials to put them on trial.

The head of the Internal Security Forces, Ashraf Rifi, slammed Hizbullah’s reception of Sayyed at Rafik Hariri International Airport, where the former general was escorted by armed members from the plane and allowed access to the airport hall.

March 14 officials have accused armed Hizbullah  members of invading the airport, while Hizbullah maintain that armed members at the airport were bodyguards of ministers and MPs.

“No patriotic individual accepts what happened at the Beirut international airport,” Rifi said following a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, adding that “we will continue to support state institutions.”

Separately, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun left Beirut Friday to travel to Syria, accompanied by his family, upon an invitation by Syrian President Bashar Assad.





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