SUN 18 - 2 - 2018
Feb 3, 2018
The Daily Star
Lebanon: Rivals call for national unity; Aoun says normality restored
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Rival political parties teamed up Friday in a rare show of solidarity to bolster national unity and stability two days after street protests by the Amal Movement’s supporters in the Christian town of Hadath threatened to ignite sectarian violence. President Michel Aoun said that the political situation in the country was back to normal after a week of heightened tensions put the country on edge. The tensions were triggered by a leaked video in which Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was shown calling Speaker Nabih Berri a “thug.”
“The situation has returned to normal ... Rest assured, the lesson has been learned from recent incidents. [We must] continue with [our] mission with confidence because a country should be built and it should be a solid one,” Aoun told visitors at Baabda Palace.
The president reiterated that political disputes should not be solved on the streets, but through relevant state institutions where things can be resolved properly.
Berri said that maintaining security and stability remained the top priority regardless of disputes among the country’s politicians.
“Despite the problems that might take place, we should always preserve security and stability in the country to confront enormous challenges,” Berri told a delegation from women organizations and associations in Lebanon that visited him at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri weighed in on the crisis pitting both Aoun and Bassil against Berri, saying that the lesson to be learned from the street protests was that the use of arms to resolve political differences would only lead to strife. “I want to talk a little bit about what happened last week. It was a lesson for everyone, that high tone does not lead to a solution but creates political tensions. That the use of weapons to solve political disputes will only lead to strife,” Hariri said in a speech at a Future Movement ceremony held at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure complex.
“We saw that even those who carry weapons inside Lebanon are now afraid of it. A lesson that going to the street, closing roads and burning tires does not lead to any solution,” he added.
“Despite all that happened, I thank God that the voice of reason and wisdom prevailed yesterday [Thursday] over the voice of motorcycles, defusing a problem that could have taken the country to another place,” Hariri added.
Aoun spoke with Berri by telephone Thursday, easing heightened tensions stoked early this week by Bassil’s offensive remarks against the speaker that triggered a wave of street protests by Berri’s supporters who blocked main roads in various parts of the country with burning tires.
Hariri, who visited Baabda Palace Thursday, was reported to have played a role in arranging the Aoun-Berri phone conversation that broke the ice between the two leaders, whose ties have been strained by the officers’ decree. Aoun and Berri agreed to meet next Tuesday to discuss measures Lebanon should take in light of Israeli comments on oil and gas exploration in south Lebanon’s Block 9.
In his speech, Hariri urged Future supporters to get ready for the May 6 parliamentary elections, Lebanon’s first since 2009 after Parliament extended its term three times since 2013.
“My colleagues in the Future Movement, everybody is waiting for us around the corner and they have nothing to do except the Future Movement. Let us remain focused and not get distracted by gossip, especially during the season of elections, the season of dreams and ambition, the season of struggles and personal bickering,” Hariri said.
Taking what appeared to be a united position in defense of national unity, stability and coexistence, MPs and officials from the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah met together in Hadath on the southern outskirts of Beirut, stressing that the recent political row was a cloud that should not turn into a storm.
“Our meeting today is a message countering all that happened in recent days. Our presence today is to confirm that we are up to the responsibility and we are determined not to let any political problem turn into a conflict among the Lebanese,” FPM lawmaker Alain Aoun, flanked by Hezbollah and Amal MPs, told the gathering held at Hadath Municipality.
Addressing Berri, who was reported to have demanded a public apology from Bassil for the ‘thug’ remark to defuse the crisis, Aoun, a nephew of the president, said: “We say to Speaker Berri that his dignity is our dignity and we will not allow any breach at the national level ... We will remain partners in this nation.”
MP Aoun said the 2006 political agreement between the FPM and Hezbollah would endure, signaling it was not affected by the Amal-FPM dispute. “The understanding with Hezbollah will continue because its goal is national unity which was manifested today ... We won’t allow clouds to turn into storms,” he said.
Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar echoed Aoun’s remarks, stating that the party still stood by the 12-year-old understanding with the FPM.
“We are very keen on strengthening and fortifying internal and national unity and the common destiny,” he said. “We are here to say ‘damn’ to all those seeking [to incite] strife ... Down with confessionalism and sectarianism. Our only sect is a unified Lebanon.”
“The understanding paper [with the FPM] will stay as long as blood is flowing in our bodies,” Ammar added.
Hadath was the scene of a rally by Berri’s supporters who drove on motorbikes into the mainly Christian area Wednesday night, waving Amal flags and honking horns. Shots were fired into the air, with residents blaming the Amal supporters. Berri has denounced the Hadath incident, denying that Amal supporters were involved.
“Although we had nothing to do with it, we [Amal Movement] apologize for any harm done to any Lebanese,” Amal MP Ali Bazzi said at the Hadath gathering.
“The Amal Movement will not cover any troublemaker who threatens the lives of all the Lebanese. Our priority is to strengthen the bonds of internal national unity,” Bazzi said. “We are keen on upholding coexistence among the Lebanese.”
Bazzi and Aoun tackled the Amal-FPM conflict, with Bazzi saying his party is “not asking for an apology from Bassil,” but that the FPM leader “needs to apologize to all Lebanese.”
At the end of the meeting, the FPM, Amal and Hezbollah lawmakers stood up, raising their hands, saying together: “We are one united hand.”
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