SAT 30 - 5 - 2020
Date: Jul 12, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Hezbollah distances itself from allies over Aley fallout
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Hezbollah called Thursday for a compromise resolution between the country’s two rival Druze parties to end the dispute over the deadly Aley clashes to consolidate civil peace, raising hopes for resuming the Cabinet sessions that have been stalled since the June 30 incident.

Hezbollah’s position was a departure from its support for a demand by its allies, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Democratic Party, that the Aley incident be investigated and tried by the Judicial Council, the country’s highest judicial court, a sensitive issue on which Cabinet ministers are sharply split.

This comes as President Michel Aoun pursued his contacts to deal with the aftermath of clashes between supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party and bodyguards of Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib in the Aley town of Qabr Shmoun that left two bodyguards dead and two others wounded. Gharib belongs to the LDP led by MP Talal Arslan, a Druze rival of PSP leader former MP Walid Joumblatt.

In its first public comment on the Aley incident, Hezbollah’s parliamentary Loyalty to the Resistance bloc reviewed “events and dilemmas that happen every now and then affecting civil peace and stability in Lebanon.”

“Perhaps, the Qabr Shmoun incident and its sad repercussions are the clearest evidence about the setback that hits political life in the country as a result of not resorting to law in tackling differences,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by its head MP Mohammad Raad.

“Reconciliation is an internal affair and is at the crux of Lebanese traditions and their daily practices. We have always advocated and encouraged this matter and we support those who are seeking [to achieve it] among the conflicting parties,” the bloc said, apparently referring to General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who has been mediating between the PSP and the LDP to defuse tensions.It stressed that a reconciliation based on legal foundations would be stronger and endure longer. “While we support the mediators’ efforts, we hope to reach within the law a reconciliatory resolution that boosts commitment to civil peace and the regulations of the Constitution and the National Reconciliation Document,” the bloc said, referring to the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War.

Aoun met with Arslan and Gharib at Baabda Palace in the latest of their encounters, discussing with them “latest developments in light of ongoing consultations to deal with the repercussions of the Qabr Shmoun incident,” according to a statement released by the president’s media office.

It added that Aoun would continue in the coming hours his contacts as part of efforts to find a solution to the crisis.

However, the meeting did not appear to have led to a softening of Arslan’s tough stance on referring the Aley incident to the Judicial Council. “Our position is unchanged. We demand that the Qabr Shmoun incident be referred to the Judicial Council,” Gharib told The Daily Star after the meeting with Aoun.

A ministerial source described Aoun’s meeting with Arslan and Gharib as “very positive.”

Aoun has met this week with Speaker Nabih Berri and former Minister Ghattas Khoury, a political aide to Hariri, as part of his consultations to settle the rift over the Judicial Council, a major stumbling block to reconvening the Cabinet.

In a tweet shortly before the meeting with Aoun, Arslan reiterated his demand for referring the incident to the Judicial Council. “The attempt to assassinate Minister Gharib will not pass. This is the normal and logical work of the Judicial Council to take the correct path in investigations,” Arslan wrote.

But Joumblatt, who opposes referring the case to the Judicial Council, scoffed at calls that the council adjudicates the case. “A judicial council does not exist in other countries according to studies and information,” the PSP leader tweeted.

While the FPM and the LDP have called for referring the Aley clashes to the Judicial Council, Berri, Hariri, the PSP and the Lebanese Forces are reportedly opposed to this, contending that the case could be handled by the regular judiciary.

Hariri postponed a Cabinet session last week 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.

A political source at the Grand Serail said the intensified flurry of political activity concentrated on eliminating obstacles to the resumption of Cabinet sessions. “Things are heading toward a breakthrough by exploring a solution to the aftermath of the Qabr Shmoun incident. This will subsequently help in getting the Cabinet sessions back on track next week,” the source told The Daily Star.

Ibrahim, who has been meeting with PSP and LDP leaders as part of his shuttle diplomacy to reach agreement on the handover of suspects from both sides involved in the incident, struck an upbeat note upon arriving at the Grand Serail Thursday evening for a meeting with Hariri. “Things are positive,” Ibrahim told reporters.

Meanwhile, LF leader Samir Geagea called for the immediate resumption of Cabinet meetings, accusing Hezbollah, the FPM and their allies of obstructing the government’s work.

He also slammed FPM leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, accusing him of delivering speeches that raised tensions and brought the country back to a civil war atmosphere.

“A political official cannot say whatever he wants ... Look how tense the situation became,” Geagea said in a televised news conference at his residence in Maarab. He said Bassil’s recent tours of the Western Bekaa and the Chouf district had been accompanied by “a set of stances and statements that revived the civil war atmosphere.”

“Following the very regrettable incident in the mountain, the March 8 team had decided to disrupt the Cabinet sessions on the pretext that they wanted the Qabr Shmoun incident referred to the Judicial Council,” Geagea said, alluding to Hezbollah, the FPM and their allies. “We don’t want this referral. This is our right in decision, but they proceed with obstruction.”

Given the dismal political scene and the dire economic and financial situation, Geagea called for the “immediate resumption of Cabinet meetings.”

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