SAT 8 - 8 - 2020
Date: Jul 22, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Progress made in finding resolution to Aley fallout
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Progress has been made in mediators’ intensified efforts to find a resolution to the aftermath of the deadly Aley clashes by referring the case to the Military Tribunal, a proposal that is supported by President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, political sources said Sunday.

Any possible breakthrough in the dispute over the June 30 Qabr Shmoun incident that has paralyzed the government is bound to help resume Cabinet sessions.

“President Aoun and Hezbollah have accepted a proposal to refer the Qabr Shmoun incident to the Military Tribunal and are expected to exert pressure on MP Talal Arslan to accept it,” a political source familiar with the case told The Daily Star.

As a face-saving measure for Arslan, the head of the Lebanese Democratic Party, who has insisted that the Qabr Shmoun shooting be investigated and tried by the Judicial Council, the country’s highest judicial court that handles highly sensitive security cases, Arslan’s request would be put for a vote at the first Cabinet session.

“But Arslan’s request will be voted down, as the 30-member Cabinet is equally split over the issue. Fifteen ministers will vote for it, and the other 15 ministers will vote against. This will subsequently lead to a consensus within the Cabinet to refer the case to the Military Tribunal,” the source said.

Arslan has repeatedly called for a Cabinet vote on his request to refer the case to the Judicial Council, indicating he would accept the outcome of the vote.

General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who has been mediating in the dispute over the fallout from the incident between the two rival Druze parties - the Progressive Socialist Party led by former MP Walid Joumblatt, and the LDP headed by Arslan - was expected to meet Prime Minister Saad Hariri Sunday night as part of his ongoing mediation efforts.

Ibrahim met earlier Sunday with Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib ahead of a planned meeting with Arslan to promote the latest proposal to break the impasse. Ibrahim also met with former minister Ghazi Aridi from the PSP at Speaker Nabih Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence for the same purpose, Al-Manar TV reported.

Meanwhile, emboldened by Parliament’s ratification of the 2019 state budget, Hariri is set to gear his efforts toward reconvening the Cabinet this week, ministerial sources said Sunday.

“Prime Minister Hariri is making efforts to convene the Cabinet this week as he had promised. There are signs of a breakthrough in the Qabr Shmoun incident that will eventually pave the way for resuming the Cabinet sessions,” Information Minister Jamal Jarrah told The Daily Star.

Jarrah, who belongs to the Future Movement, said Hariri, along with other mediators, above all Ibrahim, were making strenuous efforts to find a resolution to the aftermath of the clashes between PSP supporters and Gharib’s bodyguards in the Aley town that left two men dead and others wounded, after Arslan had rejected a proposal to refer the case to the Military Tribunal.A political adviser to Hariri concurred that a resolution was key to putting the Cabinet sessions back on track.

“Convening the Cabinet largely hinges on a breakthrough in the Qabr Shmoun incident, and Prime Minister Hariri is exerting efforts to attain this goal,” former Future MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star.

Hariri has promised to convene the Cabinet this week, hoping that a breakthrough would be reached.

In the aftermath of the gunfight, Hariri postponed a Cabinet session earlier this month in order to avert a split among ministers on which court should be used to adjudicate the Aley clashes, including a request by the LDP and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, to refer the case to the Judicial Council.

Future MP Mohammad Hajjar said Hariri was dithering in calling for a Cabinet session before a resolution had been reached “because he did not want the Cabinet to break up.”

“If there is willingness on both sides, a Cabinet session can easily be held this week,” Hajjar told The Daily Star.

Hajjar said Arslan has refused to budge on two things: Handing over wanted members from the LDP, and his insistence that the shootout be handled by the Judicial Council.

“Arslan’s position is preventing a compromise being reached to the Qabr Shmoun incident and obstructing the reconvening of the Cabinet,” he said.

According to Hajjar, the impasse could be broken either by finding a resolution to the incident or by “distancing the Cabinet from the ongoing political tug of war” between the PSP and the LDP.

A political source familiar with the case said the LDP’s request to refer the incident to the Judicial Council would now be presented to the Cabinet for a vote.

“In principle, the convening of the Cabinet largely depends on finding a resolution to the Qabr Shmoun shooting,” the source told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, Parliament’s passing of the 2019 state budget won praise from the World Bank. A senior World Bank official called the Parliament’s move “a good first step.”

In a tweet posted late Saturday night, World Bank Regional Director Saroj Kumar Jha also praised the “national debate” that both Cabinet and Parliament went through to pass the budget, which aims to drastically reduce the deficit, saying “the broad discussion, which is unique in the region, is welcomed.”

Parliament endorsed the 2019 state budget Friday night with a majority of 83 lawmakers voting in favor, 17 against and one MP abstained from voting.

The International Support Group for Lebanon also welcomed the budget’s approval, saying it “commends the sacrifices which the Lebanese people are making in order to set the country on the path toward economic growth.”

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