SAT 30 - 5 - 2020
Date: Jul 10, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: No Cabinet session this week despite big efforts
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Top officials Tuesday stepped up a flurry of political activity aiming to overcome obstacles preventing the Cabinet from meeting for the second week in a row due to the fallout of the deadly Aley clashes, ministerial sources said.

However, despite the intensified activity launched by President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, no major breakthrough was made to narrow the widening rift over referring the Aley incident to the country’s top judicial court that would clear the way for the Cabinet to resume its meetings.

“I don’t expect the Cabinet to meet this week in order to allow time for further consultations to iron out differences over a request to refer the Aley incident to the Judicial Council,” Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish told The Daily Star.

Hariri also linked the resumption of Cabinet sessions, stalled since the June 30 Aley shooting, to defusing the crisis resulting from the incident that has heightened tensions between the two rival Druze parties, the Progressive Socialist Party led by former MP Walid Joumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party headed by MP Talal Arslan.

Asked when he would call for a Cabinet session, Hariri told reporters at the Grand Serail: “I will not call for a Cabinet meeting before everyone calms down.”

He urged rival politicians to help defuse tensions for the sake of the people and the country.

“Let them take it easy on the people and the country,” he said.

Despite the gloomy prospects prevailing in the country at the political and economic levels, Hariri sounded upbeat about overcoming the crisis.

“I am optimistic despite all the non-optimistic atmosphere you see. It is a passing cloud, like so many clouds passing over us. There are social, economic and humanitarian matters that we have to deal with and unfortunately, we waste time on political matters. We should focus on the needs of this Lebanese citizen, who is frustrated by what he sees today. I tell him that this is what some people want, to frustrate the citizen, but the Lebanese is resilient,” Hariri said in a speech at the Grand Serail at the signing of a “contract of rehabilitation, maintenance, operation, management and training” of the Technical Hospitality Institute in Mina-Tripoli.

Fneish is one of three ministers representing Hezbollah, which supports a request by its allies, the Free Patriotic Movement and the LDP, for referring the Aley clashes that left two men dead and four others wounded, to the Judicial Council. Berri, Hariri, the PSP and the Lebanese Forces, are reportedly opposed to referring the incident to the Judicial Council, contending that the case could be handled by the regular judiciary.

Hariri, who returned Monday night from Paris after a 48-hour family trip, did not visit Baabda Palace Tuesday to meet with Aoun to agree on the agenda of a Cabinet session that was to be held Thursday as had been previously reported.

Instead, Hariri dispatched his political aide former Minister Ghattas Khoury to Baabda Palace, who conveyed an oral message from the premier to the president.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Khoury said Hariri’s message dealt with “latest developments, particularly the repercussions of the incidents that happened in Qabr Shmoun two weeks ago,” according to a statement released by Aoun’s media office.

“Consultations are going on to reach positive results” to break the Cabinet impasse, Khoury said.

Hariri postponed a Cabinet session last Tuesday in order to avert a split among ministers over the handling of the Aley clashes, including a request to refer the case to the Judicial Council.

Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a key political aide to Berri, sounded optimistic about solution being thrashed out to the aftermath of the Aley episode, as well as to breaking the Cabinet logjam.

“I am confident that we are heading toward a solution that will guarantee that the law takes its course. Concerning this [Aley] incident, I am in contact with all the parties. The tendency now is to find a solution that will preserve the judicial path and boost stable security,” Khalil said in a TV interview. He also spoke of a “breakthrough” in the Cabinet impasse, saying “serious steps” would be taken to find a solution in the next few hours.

Despite his alliance with Joumblatt, Berri, according to MTV, dispatched Khalil to Khaldeh, south of Beirut, for talks with Arslan as part of the speaker’s initiative designed to resolve the rift over how to address the Aley incident and subsequently clear the way for the resumption of Cabinet sessions.

But Arlsan, after meeting with General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who has been mediating between the PSP and the LDP to defuse inter-Druze tensions exacerbated by the Aley incident, insisted that the investigation into the case be carried out by the Judicial Council. The incident left two bodyguards of Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib dead and two others wounded. Gharib, a Druze, belongs to the LDP.

Ibrahim also met with Aoun before meeting later with Hariri as part of his shuttle diplomacy to reach agreement on the handover of suspects from both sides involved in the incident. A security source said four out of eight suspects held in connection with Aley incident were released after questioning.

The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc underlined the importance of reconvening the Cabinet to deal with a host of economic and financial challenges facing the country.

“The international community is expecting Lebanon [to take] serious steps to accompany the CEDRE conference’s decisions. It is illogical for political rhetoric to take precedence over tackling the economic and financial challenges and for conditions and counter-conditions to pose a barrier to the convening of the Cabinet,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by Sidon MP Bahia Hariri.

It warned that all the parties have one of two choices: “Either returning to order under the ceiling of the Cabinet and constitutional institutions, or going to the abyss and hitting a dead end.”

“The Cabinet must convene and there is no room to obstruct its work for any reason. We are looking forward to Prime Minister Saad Hariri to settle this issue this week and renew public order under the ceiling of the Constitution and national accord,” the statement said. The bloc stressed that Hariri, under the Constitution, is firstly and lastly the one who prepares the Cabinet agenda and who calls the Cabinet to meet.

Minister for the Displaced Ghassan Atallah, who belongs to the FPM headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, sounded hopeful about reconvening the Cabinet. “Things are heading toward a solution. Everyone wants to reactivate the government’s work,” Atallah said after a meeting with Hariri at the Grand Serial.

The reverberations of the Aley shooting were discussed during a meeting between Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour from the PSP and Hariri. Abu Faour Monday implicitly accused Bassil of scuttling last week’s Cabinet session.

But the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc rejected PSP accusations that it had obstructed last week’s Cabinet session.

In a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by Bassil, Minister of State for Presidency Affairs Salim Jreissati struck back at PSP ministers, saying their “screams” over the “Mountain Reconciliation” and alleged attempts to isolate and downsize the Druze party would mislead no one.

“This will not prevent the state from having the final say in all chapters of the [Aley] crisis and its ramifications,” Jreissati said.

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