SUN 5 - 7 - 2020
Date: Aug 6, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Berri renews bid to resolve crisis over Aley: sources
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: As the government deadlock entered its sixth week with no solution in sight, Speaker Nabih Berri is renewing his efforts to resolve the aftermath of the deadly Aley clashes and clear the way for Cabinet sessions to resume, political sources said Monday.

Berri is also key to bringing about a reconciliation between Hezbollah and the Progressive Socialist Party, whose ties have recently been strained over local and regional issues, the sources said.

“A Hezbollah-PSP rapprochement is essential for advancing a resolution to the crisis over the Qabr Shmoun incident,” a political source familiar with the matter told The Daily Star. Hezbollah is supporting the PSP’s Druze rival, the Lebanese Democratic Party led by MP Talal Arslan, in its demand to refer the incident to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest court that deals with sensitive security cases.

Berri Monday met with MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s 13-member parliamentary bloc, at his Ain al-Tineh residence to discuss his efforts, as well as a possible reconciliation with the PSP, headed by former MP Walid Joumblatt.

Asked after the meeting if things were heading for a breakthrough in the June 30 Qabr Shmoun episode, which has since paralyzed the government and heightened tensions in the country, Raad said the situation needed “prayers.”

Berri’s initiative basically calls for holding a Cabinet session that will not touch on the Qabr Shmoun shootout, and leaving the Military Tribunal, which is currently investigating the case, to do its job, the source said. “It also calls for a political reconciliation involving all the parties,” the source added.

The source noted that the initiative was the same one Berri had proposed, but was opposed by some parties, a few days after the Aley shootout that left two men dead and four others wounded. The two men, bodyguards of Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib, were killed in clashes with PSP supporters. Gharib belongs to the LDP.

“With Berri being a key ally of Joumblatt, the speaker is expected to nudge the PSP leader into accepting the initiative and reconciliation. The same thing applies to Hezbollah, which is allied with Arslan,” the source said.

Cabinet sessions have been stalled since the incident. Hariri postponed a Cabinet session on July 2 in order to avert a split among ministers on which court should be used to adjudicate the clashes. The 30-member Cabinet is equally split over the issue. While the LDP and its allies, the FPM and Hezbollah, have called for the incident to be referred to the Judicial Council, Berri, Hariri, the PSP and the Lebanese Forces are opposed to this, arguing the case could be handled by the regular judiciary.

A source close to Berri said the speaker was working on a resolution to the crisis based on a reconciliation embracing all the rival parties, including the PSP and Hezbollah, the PSP and the LDP, and the PSP and the Free Patriotic Movement, headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

“Since the beginning of the [Qabr Shmoun] crisis, Speaker Berri has been instrumental in promoting a resolution founded on all-embracing reconciliation among the various parties,” the source told The Daily Star.

However, the source expressed skepticism about any imminent breakthrough following remarks attributed to President Michel Aoun in which he was quoted as saying: “The Qabr Shmoun incident was an ambush set for Gebran [Bassil] and not for Gharib.”

Asked about a possible inter-Druze reconciliation to be hosted at Baabda Palace between Joumblatt and Arslan, Aoun was quoting as saying in remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper: “I am not a tribe’s sheikh to bring people together and reconcile them. There is one path for the case, which is the path of the judiciary that will uncover who carried out this crime.”

“Aoun’s remarks are bound to complicate Berri’s reconciliation efforts,” the source said.

Earlier in the day, Berri warned that Lebanon was going through “a very dangerous period which we hope to overcome very soon.” Speaking during a dialogue on supporting Lebanese industry he chaired at Ain al-Tineh, Berri said: “There will be no investment or a revitalization of the industry, agriculture, tourism or economy without political stability and security.”

As The Daily Star went to print around midnight Monday, there was no word on whether Hariri, who left Beirut Friday on a private two-day trip to spend the weekend with his family in Europe, had returned.

In what seemed to be a response to Aoun’s call on Hariri last week to convene the Cabinet as soon as possible, Future Movement MPs said the premier would not call for a session before a political settlement to the Qabr Shmoun incident had been reached. They also supported Berri’s initiative to break the Cabinet deadlock.

“Prime Minister Hariri knows well that convening the Cabinet before reaching a political settlement and before defusing tensions will lead to a confrontation inside the Cabinet with unforeseen consequences. This situation will probably obstruct the government for a long time,” Future MP Mohammad Hajjar told The Daily Star.

“Hariri is working with other leaders to ensure the success of initiatives to end the abnormal situation in the country,” he said, adding that the Future Movement supported Berri’s initiative to resolve the crisis.

“There are no signs of a solution to the crisis except Speaker Berri’s new initiative, which we hope will take its course toward resolving what happened,” Future MP Samir Jisr told the Central News Agency. “There is no wisdom to hold a Cabinet session today before a political settlement to the mountain incident has been found.”

Asked to comment on Berri’s initiative, Rami Rayess, head of the PSP’s media office, told The Daily Star: “Regarding the initiative, we are open to all political initiatives, just like we were straight from the beginning. Of course, depending on the basic pillars of the initiative and how they will go about doing it.”

Berri’s initiative comes amid an exchange of accusations between Baabda Palace and the PSP over the role of the Military Tribunal in the ongoing probe into the Qabr Shmoun incident. Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour, one of two PSP ministers, claimed that there was “flagrant intervention” in the Military Tribunal’s investigation.

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