Lebanon News

Campaign against Hezbollah's weapons stepped up

BEIRUT: March 14 parties pressed ahead with a campaign against Hezbollah’s weapons Tuesday as negotiations to eliminate obstacles hindering the Cabinet formation failed to achieve any progress with no indications of a breakthrough this week.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati is pursuing his negotiations away from the media to reach an agreement over the Cabinet make-up and bridge the gap between President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, a source close to Mikati said.

The source added that negotiations were held up by Aoun’s demands, particularly after the former Lebanese army commander “stepped up his rhetoric this afternoon,” dismissing the possibility of forming a government before next week.

Aoun’s sharp criticism of Sleiman and the March 14 coalition was met by the Future Movement’s blatant condemnation of Hezbollah’s arsenal.

The movement’s head – caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri – attacked Hezbollah’s arsenal, saying the group’s weapons have become a national problem that were poisoning the political and cultural life in Lebanon and that the issue needed a national solution.

Hariri also accused Hezbollah of using its weapons internally in the past three years to influence political disputes in its favor.

The Future Movement bloc said Hezbollah’s arsenal lost its legitimacy after arms were aimed against fellow citizens in a bid to serve the party’s political and regional interests.

Hezbollah, which has remained silent since the campaign against its weapons kicked off, refused to comment on the issue when The Daily Star contacted a number of party officials.

However, the Gathering of National Parties, which embraces a representative of Hezbollah, said the Future Movement’s campaign against Hezbollah served Israeli and foreign interests plotting to divide Lebanon and the region.

Ahead of its rally to voice support for the U.N.-backed tribunal – which is investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and to demand the restriction of weapons to state institutions, the Future Movement warned the new government against taking unilateral measures, in reference to Lebanon’s ties with the court.

“The Future Movement bloc stressed its constitutional and democratic right to stand in the opposition and to confront attempts to intimidate, threaten and distort facts. The bloc also warns against resorting to unilateral and revengeful measures,” a statement said.

“The bloc will not remain silent and will defend democracy, freedom of speech and safeguard the Lebanese people’s rights against attempts to obstruct justice,” the statement added.

As he urged March 14 supporters to participate in the coalition’s annual rally, caretaker Minister of State Michel Pharaon said the March 14 coalition has yet to decide whether to hold its rally on March 13 or 14.

March 13 falls on a Sunday, which is likely to draw more supporters as most Lebanese normally have to work on Mondays.

Pharaon added that the March 14 alliance was also in the process of re-organizing its ranks to allow the participation of non-partisans in its decision-making process.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt’s supporters would participate in the March 14 rally despite their leader’s realignment alongside Syria and its allies.

Jumblatt, who was a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a hard-line critic of Hezbollah’s weapons, gradually moved closer to Damascus after his withdrawal from the March 14 alliance following the June 2009 parliamentary elections.

The PSP leader dealt the last blow to Hariri when his National Struggle Front parliamentary bloc named Mikati to head the new government after Hariri’s government was brought down in January.

The March 14 alliance announced earlier this week its decision to boycott Mikati’s government, saying he had refused to commit to supporting the U.N.-backed tribunal.

Pharaon said the Cabinet formation process should not be looked at separately from the “coup” which preceded it when he said Hezbollah resorted to the threat of force to shift the parliamentary majority and seize power.

“The March 8 invitation to take part in the Cabinet is not serious and we have no other alternative but to confront from the ranks of the opposition and in line with constitutional norms,” Pharaon said, who called for early parliamentary elections to be held.





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