Lebanon News

Salam insists on Thursday Cabinet meeting, Hezbollah indecisive on boycott

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam is insistent on holding a Cabinet session on Thursday despite a Free Patriotic Movement decision to boycott the meeting, a minister said Wednesday after meeting with the premier.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish spoke with the Lebanese premier at the Grand Serail Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to convince him to postpone Thursday’s session, but said that Salam was in support of the meeting taking place.

“Salam listened and said that he supports holding the session and will be adamant on administering it so that the situation does not go in the wrong direction with the absence of the Free Patriotic Movement ministers,” Fneish said following the meeting, according to a statement from Salam's office.

The Hezbollah minister said, however, that his party has still not decided whether they too will be boycotting the session in solidarity with their March 8 allies.

“I will relay [Salam’s] position to the brothers at Hezbollah. ... Until this hour, we haven’t taken a position to boycott [the session],” he said.

Salam also contacted Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said his Development and Liberation bloc agreed to attend the session.

According to the Parliament's press office, both Berri and Salam agreed to delay any important decision in Thursday's meeting.

Earlier in the day, the leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, called on the government to postpone the session.

"We at Hezbollah ... call on Prime Minister Tammam Salam to postpone the date of tomorrow's session, leaving room for making calls and discussions between the different components of government to avoid any obstacles," he said in a statement carried by state media.

In an interview published Wednesday in As-Safir, Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon said that he had proposed that the session be moved to a later date in order to avoid a political crisis.

However, Salam had told him that the session will be held "in principle," as the majority of ministers will be attending, including those from Hezbollah.

FPM leader Gebran Bassil announced Tuesday that his party would be boycotting Thursday’s Cabinet session as a warning to the government against forging ahead with plans to extend the mandate of Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.

Bassil warned that the country could face a crisis over its sectarian-based political system if FPM demands are not met. He also said that any additional escalatory measures his party takes will largely depend on the government’s reaction to the boycott.

FPM Minister Elias Bou Saab told As-Safir that it would be a "dangerous development" if the Cabinet goes ahead with Thursday's session, which goes beyond the issue of the military appointments.

"It's as if they are saying to us that with or without you, we will govern," Bou Saab said.

All Lebanese sects would be represented in the Cabinet meeting Thursday, a government source told the daily, despite the absence of FPM ministers.

“[Foreign] Minister Gebran Bassil's and [Education Minister] Elias Bou Saab's boycott means that a political component is absent, and not the Christian component,” the source said.

Defense Minister Samir Moqbel last Saturday extended the term of Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir by one year, despite the FPM ministers’ strong opposition to military extensions during last week’s Cabinet session.

Moqbel had proposed three candidates to succeed Kheir during the session, but none received the required two-thirds majority vote, forcing him to extend the the secretary-general of the Higher Defense Council’s term.

Moqbel also hinted that he would lengthen Kahwagi's term, which is set to expire on Sept. 30.

Referring to Kheir’s term extension, Bassil said: “This year we agreed on the name of a member of the Military Council and endorsed what the Sunnis and the Future Movement want because it is a Sunni post. But this year, we will not keep silent on the extension [of Kahwagi’s term] and we will do what is necessary to prevent it.”

Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb told As-Safir that the FPM’s move is further obstructing the country’s already-fragile political situation, saying that the only solution is for the immediate election of a president to fill to more than two-year vacuum.





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