Lebanon News

Fears of strife delay debate on funding tribunal

BEIRUT: Rival Lebanese groups postponed discussions over the disputed funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) on Tuesday, while the chances of resolving the political deadlock over the UN-backed court appeared remote.

In the second round of discussions in less than a month by the Finance and Budget committee, MPs of the parliamentary majority and opposition lawmakers bickered over the article in the 2011 draft budget concerning the STL funding,  leaving the Parliament’s general assembly to decide on the issue.

During the session, Future Movement and Hizbullah lawmakers traded accusations over the legal quorum of the committee’s last meeting earlier this month, when MPs of the parliamentary majority withdrew from the meeting.

Their withdrawal followed the rejection by opposition lawmakers to approve the article with regard to the STL funding.

This refusal to approve the STL’s funding follows Hizbullah’s condemnation of the UN court as an Israeli project which will fabricate an indictment accusing Hizbullah members of involvement in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder as part of a plot aimed against the resistance.

But the Future Movement and its leader, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, reiterated Tuesday that they would not relinquish support for the STL despite the growing campaign against it, while underscoring that the UN-backed court is an independent entity that could not be ignored.

“The ongoing escalatory political and media campaign against the STL conflicts with the fact that the tribunal became a fact that cannot be ignored as well as efforts to preserve calm and stability,” the Future Movement said in a statement following a meeting headed by Hariri.

“All threats and intimidation attempts will not influence our full commitment to the STL which is part of national consensus in National Dialogue sessions and a major article of the successive Cabinet policy statements,” the statement added.

Hariri’s position mirrored that of France, whose ambassador to Lebanon stressed that the STL’s abolition was not an option since the court is fully independent. “The issue of stopping the STL is not proposed and this committee cannot but be fully independent,”

French Ambassador to Lebanon, Dennis Pietton, said in remarks to be published by the Lebanese daily newspaper L’Orient Le Jour on Wednesday.

Pietton added that Lebanon’s current situation raised issues that should be managed through calm dialogue, while highlighting Hariri’s awareness that the STL could not be abolished but added that Hariri as premier is also concerned with preserving Lebanon’s stability.

Hizbullah has recently made it clear that the party would not stand neutral against an indictment accusing its members of involvement in Hariri’s assassination in 2005.

Hizbullah MP Nawaf Moussawi went further to warn that the resistance would regard parties backing the indictment as “US and Zionist invaders and will treat them accordingly.”

However, Pietton dismissed the possibility of incidents similar to the May 7, 2008, events, despite the ongoing tensions over the STL raising fears of sectarian strife.

In 2008 Sunni pro-government and Shiite pro-opposition gunmen clashed in west Beirut neighborhoods following the Cabinet’s decision to dismantle Hizbullah’s telecommunication network. The bloody clashes ended with the Doha Accord that led to the formation of a unity cabinet granting opposition forces veto power.

Earlier Tuesday, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said the opposition’s rejection of the STL does not concern the Future Movement “similarly to threats which are of no value to us.”

“My party is not the side to issue an indictment or the side that has prerogatives over the issue. Thus our team is not concerned with demands by the other side as well as the latter’s enmity toward the tribunal,” Houri said.

But Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun slammed Hariri and the Future Movement for preventing the trial of false witnesses and accused security apparatus close to the premier of falsifying them. “They admit the presence of false witnesses but they do not want to put them on trial because they fabricated them,” Aoun said.

Hizbullah officials and Aoun have lately focused their criticism of the STL on its failure to put false witnesses – former witnesses before the UN probe that the opposition accused of misleading investigations – on trial.

Meanwhile, Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel Karim Ali, said Damascus could play a role in the resolution of the internal dispute but could not substitute for the Lebanese themselves.

Separately, in his remarks to L’Orient Le Jour, Pietton said Syria was an essential partner to Lebanon and that the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement does not substitute for strong Lebanese-Syrian bilateral ties. The French ambassador added that his country was keen on promoting French-Syrian bilateral ties but also supported Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty.

Pietton also praised Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt’s roles as mediators to prevent Lebanon from being dragged to conflict.

 

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