WED 19 - 2 - 2020
Jul 3, 2019
The Daily Star
Hariri averts Cabinet crisis over deadly Aley clashes
Five suspects handed to Information Branch
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri postponed a Cabinet session Tuesday to contain a split among ministers over how to deal with the weekend’s deadly clashes in Aley, including a request by some parties to refer the case to the Judicial Council. This comes as a number of suspects wanted for their involvement in the Aley incident have been handed over to General Security, whose head Abbas Ibrahim is currently on a mediation attempt to defuse tensions that had threatened to plunge the sectarian-mixed Chouf district into new strife.
Hariri said the postponement of the Cabinet session was part of efforts to de-escalate tensions arising from Sunday’s shooting incident in the Aley town of Qabr Shmoun between a convoy carrying Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib and Progressive Socialist Party supporters that left two of Gharib’s bodyguards dead and two others wounded.
“Ministers are in disagreement over how to deal with the Aley episode, including a request by the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Democratic Party to refer the case to the Judicial Council,” a ministerial source told The Daily Star.
“We need 48 hours to defuse the current tensions, so I decided to postpone today’s session and until the judiciary measures are taken,” Hariri told reporters at the Grand Serail after announcing his decision. “Today some of the wanted men have been handed over and the Lebanese Army arrested others, and the judiciary will take all the steps to punish those who committed the crime.”
“It’s my duty as prime minister to defuse the current tensions,” the prime minister said.
Hariri’s remarks came shortly after a number of suspects wanted for their involvement in the Aley clashes have been handed over to General Security.
The announcement by Ibrahim came after he met with LDP leader MP Talal Arslan Tuesday afternoon as part of his mediation attempts to de-escalate tensions between the LDP and the PSP.
Ibrahim said he would also meet with PSP leader former MP Walid Joumblatt for this purpose.
The Army said in a statement Tuesday that two men had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the Aley clashes. The statement identified the suspects as F.Aa. and Kh.Gh., saying that they were found in possession of weapons, grenades and ammunition.
The Army said an investigation had begun into their involvement in the Aley incident.
“The handover of suspects in the Aley incident is part of a solution being worked out to the problem. This will persuade the parents of the two slain bodyguards to bury their loved ones,” a political source familiar with the case told The Daily Star.
As part of de-escalation efforts, Hariri met with Joumblatt in the first encounter between the two since a war of words erupted last month between the PSP and the Future Movement, reflecting rising tensions between the two historically allied parties.
The meeting came on the sidelines of Hariri’s visit to the Druze Community House in Verdun where he paid condolences to Druze Sheikh Naim Hasan for the death of Sheikh Ali Zeineddine, in the presence of Joumblatt, and his son, MP Taymour Joumblatt.
Speaker Nabih Berri is preparing to bring Hariri and Joumblatt together at a dinner he will host at his Ain al-Tineh residence in the next 48 hours that had been arranged before the Aley incidents, LBCI channel reported.
Hariri denied reports that the absence of some ministers from the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil had led to disrupting the Cabinet session.
“There has been a lot of news in the media about the Cabinet session. What happened today [Tuesday] is that the quorum was met and the ministers came, but as you know there is a problem in the country and as a result we decided to give ourselves some time. I agreed to head a national accord government and not a national dispute government,” he said.
Despite the negative fallout the Aley clashes had left on Cabinet unity, Hariri stressed that the government was in good shape.
Asked why Ibrahim and not him was playing the role of the “firefighter” in the Aley episode, Hariri said: “We are all trying to extinguish the fire and not General Abbas Ibrahim alone. Also, I have the right, as a prime minister, to resort to General Abbas Ibrahim or others. In the end, I want to assure you that the government is fine and hopefully this [Tuesday] evening or tomorrow [Wednesday] morning you will know the new date of the Cabinet meeting.”
A major bone of contention among ministers is a request by the FPM and the LDP for the Aley clashes case to be referred to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest judicial court.
But Hariri did not appear to be supporting this request, preferring instead the normal judiciary to handle this case.
“What matters to us is the result, and that whoever committed this crime is referred to the judiciary that will be decisive in this regard. No one will object. There is great cooperation from all parties,” Hariri said.
“The dispute today is not about the Judicial Council or anything else. What matters is the outcome of what will happen and the handover of the perpetrators of this crime ... What are the issues that have been solved in the Judicial Council and what are the results? I am not criticizing the council or the judiciary, but I think that what is taking place today is better and faster and in the end the judiciary will do its job.”
Hariri stressed that the priority for citizens was not the escalating political rhetoric between rival parties, but improving the economic and social situation, and that security for him “is a red line.”
Bassil, whose tour of the Chouf district sparked tensions with the PSP and led to Sunday’s clashes, condemned the Aley incident, saying the FPM would not be involved in a conflict between the Druze and Christians.
“Attempts to drag us into Christian-Druze strife will not happen,” Bassil told a news conference after chairing the weekly meeting of the Strong Lebanon bloc.
Bassil also said there was a general consensus that the Aley clashes had been premeditated. “Everything that we tried to avoid has happened because it was planned,” he said.
“There was a security and political ambush in which we did not want to fall because we do not like to fall into strife. So, we averted it,” Bassil said. He added that the FPM was working to achieve an inter-Druze reconciliation between the PSP and the LDP.
“We want to live in the country with full partnership and equality, deep-rooted reconciliation and avoid strife,” Bassil said.
PSP supporters had blocked the road in Qbar Shmoun, protesting a planned visit to nearby Kfar Matta by Bassil. It is not clear who opened fire first.
Five suspects in Aley clashes handed to Information Branch
BEIRUT: Five detainees suspected of being involved in the weekend’s clashes in Aley have been handed over to the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch for investigation, local media reported Wednesday.
Local TV channel LBCI reported that three men were handed over by General Security, and the remaining two by the Lebanese Army.
On Sunday, two bodyguards accompanying Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib in a convoy driving through the Aley town of Qabr Shmoun were shot and killed, while two others were injured.
Two members of the Progressive Socialist Party, a rival Druze party to the Lebanese Democratic Party, with which Gharib is allied, were also injured in the clash.
There are conflicting accounts on who fired the first shot, with the PSP saying that Gharib’s bodyguards opened fire first, while the LDP insists that someone from a crowd of PSP supporters in the town made the first move.
Prior to the incident, protesters belonging to the PSP and its supporters gathered in Qabr Shmoun to block the way of a planned visit to nearby Kfar Matta by Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil.
The Army released a statement Tuesday identifying two suspects as F.Aa. and Kh.Gh. and said they were in possession of weapons, grenades and ammunition; an Army spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Star Wednesday that these were the two handed over to the ISF. General Security has not yet released any information about the identity of its detainees.
Bassil: FPM won't be dragged into Christian-Druze conflict
BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil Tuesday condemned the Aley incident, saying his party wouldn’t be involved in a conflict between the Druze and Christians.
“Attempts to drag us into Christian-Druze strife will not happen,” Bassil said during a televised news conference. He added that the FPM wouldn’t let a conflict between the two groups erupt at all.
Bassil also said there was a general consensus that the recent Aley clashes had been premeditated.
“Everything that we tried to avoid has happened because it was planned,” he said.
On Sunday, a shooting broke out between a convoy carrying Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib and a number of Progressive Socialist Party supporters that left two dead and injured others.
Gharib, who is allied with the Lebanese Democratic Party, headed by Druze leader Talal Arslan, claimed that members of the rival Druze party, the PSP, opened fire as the convoy passed through the town, in what he called an “assassination attempt.”
However, Education Minister Akram Chehayeb, who belongs to the PSP, claimed Gharib’s bodyguards had opened fire first. Local residents also alleged the bodyguards had fired the shots first.
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