Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Cabinet will be back in business this week following the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday. The Cabinet resumes its work in the wake of both nationwide joy over the Lebanese Army’s victory against Daesh (ISIS) and harsh criticism from some quarters of a deal Hezbollah negotiated with Daesh that led to the militants’ retreat from the northeastern border region and the uncovering of the fate of nine kidnapped servicemen.
The Cabinet is set to meet Thursday. However, the venue and agenda of the Cabinet session remain undecided pending the return of Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Beirut from his visits to France and Saudi Arabia, an official source told The Daily Star Monday.
A political source said that some ministers, mainly from the Lebanese Forces, who were enraged by Hezbollah’s deal with Daesh that secured a safe passage to the militants from the rugged mountainous areas of Ras Baalbeck and Al-Qaa to eastern Syria, intend to raise this issue during the Cabinet session.
But Hariri in this case will intervene as he did in previous sessions to put aside any contentious topic in order to prevent a new split within the Cabinet, the source said.
Hariri is scheduled to begin a two-day official visit to Moscow on Sept. 11 aimed at enlisting Russia’s support for Lebanon in coping with 2 million Syrian refugees, according to government estimates, whose presence is straining the country’s ailing economy and fragile infrastructure, sources close to the premier said.
Hariri is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
According to a source close to the premier, Hariri is expected to discuss three main topics with Russian officials: the situation in Lebanon, the turmoil in the region and its impact on Lebanon, and distancing the country from regional conflicts.
“Hariri will also demand that international aid be increased to Lebanon to help it deal with the Syrian refugee crisis,” the source said.
“The prime minister will discuss how Moscow can help in supporting Lebanon cope with the refugee crisis,” the source added.
Hariri has just concluded an official visit to Paris where he held talks with his French counterpart Edouard Philippe and French President Emmanuel Macron, focusing on increasing military aid to the Lebanese Army and the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country.
One major outcome of the visit was the declaration by Macron after his meeting with Hariri that France will host two conferences in the first quarter of next year: the first to boost the Lebanese economy and the second to discuss the issue of Syrian refugees. Macron also said that he would be traveling to Lebanon next year to lay the groundwork for these two conferences.One of the two conferences is being billed as a “Paris IV” donor conference, styled as a follow up to “Paris III,” which saw international states come together to pledge support for Lebanon just six months after the country’s 34-day war with Israel in 2006.
“In the troubled regional context to which Lebanon is confronted, I would like to reiterate to you that France will continue to stand by Lebanon,” Macron said during a joint news conference with Hariri at the Elysee Palace in Paris after the two leaders spent over an hour in private discussions. He added that discussions would be continued during President Michel Aoun’s state visit to Paris on Sept. 25.
Macron lauded the Lebanese state and its people for welcoming the Syrian refugees. “Lebanon is and will remain the first recipient of French aid in response to the Syrian refugee crisis,” he said.
Macron that during the first quarter of 2018, he plans to organize a conference on the return of refugees to their country. He added that this conference would involve the main countries hosting refugees in the region.
For his part, Hariri said: “The relationship between France and Lebanon is a historical relationship at all levels. France always stood by Lebanon’s side during the civil war and today also.” Hariri added that bilateral ties would continue to improve under Macron’s mandate.
Hariri said the refugee crisis is presenting “a very difficult situation” for Lebanon. “It weighs heavily on the Lebanese economy, but also on security, environment and all sectors. It is a challenge. ... President Macron’s approach is a scientific one. We need to work to find true solutions, particularly through the conferences you [Macron] talked about.”
Hariri concluded his visit to France by meeting with French Defense Minister Florence Parly at his residence in Paris. The talks focused on strengthening cooperation between Lebanon and France, particularly in supporting the Lebanese Army and security forces, a statement by Hariri’s media office said.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s deal with Daesh that ensured a safe passage to the militants from the Lebanese-Syrian border to Deir al-Zor province in eastern Syria drew more condemnation from Lebanese politicians. The deal has already drawn harsh criticism from Iraqi officials, international officials and a number of Lebanese lawmakers who questioned the wisdom of letting Daesh militants go free after they killed the nine kidnapped Lebanese soldiers. The deal led to the uncovering of the remains of eight soldiers on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal, in a location disclosed by Daesh militants. The remains of the ninth soldier were uncovered later.
The Kataeb Party congratulated the Lebanese Army on its “historic achievement” in liberating the countryside of Ras Baalbeck and Al-Qaa from Daesh, saying this has proved the military’s “capability to impose the state sovereignty over its territories.”
But the party expressed its “deep indignation over the authorities’ reluctance to take measures to arrest the terrorists and refer them to the relevant judiciary,” said a statement issued after the weekly meeting of the party’s Political Bureau chaired by party chief MP Sami Gemayel. “Instead of doing this, the authorities succumbed to a deal thrashed out by Hezbollah and the Syrian regime outside the border that called for the safe exit of the terrorists.”
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, who has criticized Hezbollah’s deal with Daesh, voiced his support for an investigation into the case of the kidnapped soldiers. “But any investigation in this respect should start from the last chapter to see who worked to smuggle Daesh [out of Lebanese territory],” Geagea said Sunday at a Lebanese Forces dinner in the northern town of Hadsheet.