Nazih Osseiran| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on officials and politicians Thursday to refrain from political bickering as Lebanon geared up to hold the state funeral for soldiers that had been killed in captivity by Daesh (ISIS). “This occasion should be one of national unity that shouldn’t turn into a political division,” Hariri said during a Cabinet session at the Grand Serial, according to a statement issued by his media office.
The state funeral will be held at the Defense Ministry in Yarze Friday, which has been declared a national day of mourning.
Government departments, banks, schools and businesses will close in a mark of respect.
President Michel Aoun will attend the ceremony and deliver a speech along with Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun. Aoun will also award the fallen servicemen posthumous medals. The president will then preside over a meeting of the Higher Defense Council.
The Cabinet session Thursday began with a minute of silence to commemorate the fallen soldiers.
“Yesterday [Wednesday] we confirmed the DNA results for soldiers in Daesh’s captivity,” Hariri said during the session, adding that the nation is in a state of mourning for all the Army and security service personnel who have died in the war against terrorism.
“I call on everyone to elevate to the level of our heroic martyr soldiers and to stay away from small political bickering because Daesh is the one who is responsible for this crime,” he said.
Over 30 servicemen were taken hostage in 2014 when Daesh and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – known as the Nusra Front – briefly overran the northeastern town of Arsal.
The fate of the nine murdered Army soldiers was only last month, as part of a cease-fire deal brokered by Hezbollah. The deal came at the tail end of an Army offensive on Daesh’s positions in Lebanon along the northeastern border with Syria. The deal saw over 600 Daesh fighters and their families leave the mountainous region to the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor. Their safe passage was guaranteed in return for providing information on the whereabouts of the servicemen, who Daesh held hostage and later executed.
Despite the solemn occasion, Hariri was optimistic regarding the outcome of his visit to France last week, where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
“In our trip, we succeeded to launch three conferences for Lebanon’s benefit. The first is to support the Lebanese economy, the second is in support of the Army and the security forces,” Hariri told the ministers. “And the third is to support the return of refugees.”
“This can’t be completed without the support of the Arab brethren,” he added. “Since the beginning, we followed a disassociation policy ... to keep Lebanon away from the conflicts ongoing in the region. And at this point, it is in Lebanon’s interests to remain far from tensions with all our friends and brethren.”
He stressed that Lebanon was not part of any axis, but an active member of the international coalition against terrorism. “[Lebanon] is carrying out its role and taking its responsibilities in protecting its people, border and sovereignty through its own security forces,” he added.
The agenda for the session included 44 items.
Before entering the session, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that the issue of the Parliamentary by-elections will not be addressed in the session but in another meeting that will be held at the Baabda Palace.
Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zeaiter didn’t respond when asked whether the issues surrounding the director-general of cooperatives at the Agriculture Ministry, Gloria Abu Zeid, will be discussed.
Zeaiter had previously tried to appoint a new director-general in addition to a new president for the administrative committee that oversees the implementation of the Green Plan. The Green Plan aims to promote green initiatives in Lebanon and is currently headed by Abu Zeid.
Minister of State for Presidency Affairs Pierre Raffoul, who represents the Free Patriotic Movement in the Cabinet, said as he was heading into the session that the FPM would vote on substituting Abu Zeid. However, Information Minister Melhem Riachi, who represents the Lebanese Forces, said the LF would object to assigning a substitute because “that is unjust.”
Reports emerged that Abu Zeid might be changed for someone from the Aoun family, which prompted the Marada Movement’s Public Works and Transport Minister Youssef Fenianos to ask: “Has anyone from the Aoun family not got a [decision making position]?”
Riachi told reporters at the end of the session that this topic was postponed upon Zeaiter’s request.
During its weekly meeting, the Future Movement supported Hariri’s statements of disassociation. “The Future Movement ... confirms the stance taken by ... Hariri that Lebanon is not part of any axis ... but is rather a part of a legitimate and Arab organization [and is part of] the international alliance to combat terrorism,” the party said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
On the other end of the spectrum, Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc called for the re-establishment of ties with Syria.
“Positive developments in Lebanon and Syria allow the two countries to bring together the issue of their relationship as that would positively contribute to decreasing burdens on the two brotherly peoples,” the NNA reported a statement by the bloc as saying. “It pushes toward reactivating political and economic ties ... and achieves mutual interests.”