Lebanon News

March 14 starts campaign to expel Syrian envoy

Student supporters of the March 14 coalition march to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Several hundred students and activists of the March 14 coalition marched to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Beirut Wednesday, calling for the expulsion of Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali.

While Ali played down the demands for his expulsion in a meeting with a March 8 delegation earlier in the day, the March 14 coalition’s student organizations said that he is not the ambassador of the Syrian people but “the Syrian regime’s representative in Lebanon.”

During a meeting with a March 8 delegation at the Syrian Embassy in Yarzeh near Beirut, Ali dismissed the calls for his expulsion, describing March 14’s demands as a sign of “frustration and desperation.”

“The demonstration by a small segment of the March 14 forces outside the Foreign Ministry is part of a split in the country and is a sign of frustration and despair felt by them,” said Ali.

Demonstrators in front of the Foreign Ministry later in the afternoon said that their next march would be to the Syrian Embassy in Yarzeh.

“Syrian Ambassador! Go Home!” read many banners carried by the March 14 activists.

Calls for summoning Damascus’ ambassador to Beirut have dominated March 14’s rhetoric since charges were filed against Former Information Minister Michel Samaha and two Syrian officials for carrying explosive devices from Syria to Lebanon and plotting terror attacks in the country.

Ongoing investigations have pointed to a clear link between Samaha and Syria’s National Security chief Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk. Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour’s refusal to summon Ali has triggered waves of condemnations by the March 14 opposition.In addition to politicians and students of the March 14 coalition, Syrian activists who have taken refuge in Lebanon also attended the rally.

Alia Mansour, a member of the Syrian National Council, told The Daily Star that Ali only represents Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in Lebanon and works to target Syrian activists in the country.

“We know how much the Lebanese suffered from this oppressive regime. This ambassador doesn’t represent us [the Syrian people] because he is working as an informer to the Syrian regime about the Syrian activists in Lebanon,” said Mansour.

Draping herself with the Syrian rebel flag, Mansour said that the Syrian Embassy had its own “group of thugs” who were monitoring the work of Syrian activists and sometimes kidnapping them.

Former MP Elias Atallah said that Wednesday’s rally was only a warm-up compared to the upcoming events the coalition was planning.

“This is only a students’ movement and the rally wasn’t organized on the level of the March 14 politicians.

“Had the politicians called for a rally, you would have seen a different picture,” said Atallah.

“I hope the Lebanese government understands this message today and stops disassociating itself from all brutal acts being carried out by the Assad regime.”

Atallah also said that the regime in Damascus had been oppressing not only Syrians, but also Lebanese and Palestinians.

“This regime has killed three peoples, and these three people should unite to get rid of this murderous regime,” he said.

“This government was not established here [Beirut], but in Iran and Damascus ... and most of its ministers are partners of the Assad regime,” said Atallah.

Wissam Shibli, head of the Future Movement’s student organization, said that Lebanese could no longer remain silent on the violations of the Syrian regime.

“As student organizations we decided to come together once again as March 14 activists and say enough for the violations,” said Shibli.

Shibli said that the rally is against all institutions and individuals who stand behind the Syrian regime in its daily violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“This demonstration is against the government, the Syrian ambassador, the Syrian regime and everything that is threatening Lebanon, its stability and the project of the state that former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri died for,” Shibli said.

“Assad would defect before his Lebanese allies because his allies wouldn’t be aware of his defection as they are unaware of what is happening in Syria,” Shibli said.

Minieh MP Ahmad Fatfat said the rally was a protest against the ignorance of the foreign affairs minister.

“The minister has not even summoned the Syrian ambassador to talk about the case of former Minister Michel Samaha,” said Fatfat.

Recalling a number of kidnappings that targeted Syrian activists in Lebanon, Fatfat said that the Syrian ambassador had had a role in security incidents since his appointment as ambassador.

“We should not forget the Jassem brothers and Shibli al-Aisamy, who were probably killed after the kidnapping ... We should not even forget the insults he made against President Michel Sleiman,” he said.

“The Syrian ambassador represents the Damascus regime which sent explosive devices to Lebanon to cause instability, and the least we can do is to expel him from the country,” the Future Movement MP added.

A week after a rally by the Kataeb Party’s youth department, all youth departments of the March 14 coalition agreed to coordinate on upcoming protests.

Wednesday’s rally was attended by Jamaa Islamiya, the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party, the National Liberal Party and the Independence Movement.

Head of Lebanese Forces’ Students League Nadim Yazbeck criticized the foreign affairs minister for refusing to summon Syria’s ambassador.

“We are demonstrating today to tell the minister that Lebanese people are paying for him to be responsible, protect Lebanon’s sovereignty and not serve the interests of the Baath Party in the country,” said Yazbeck.

Hisham Mahmoud, a student supporter of the Future Movement who came from Akkar to take part in the rally, said that Lebanese could no longer tolerate Syrian violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“As Lebanese we have fought for our freedom and we can no longer remain silent in the face of the Syrian regime’s threats against our freedom,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2012, on page 1.

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