President: Hezbollah is a threat to Lebanon's independence
Lebanon’s independence is threatened by “parties or groups” operating separately from the state, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman has said in a clear reference to Hezbollah on the eve of the country’s 70th anniversary of independence from France.
The celebration comes only a few days after blasts rocked Beirut, sparking more fears that the country is drifting into sectarian violence triggered by the conflict in Syria.
In his speech, Sleiman criticized Hezbollah’s continuous operation outside the state control and the militia group involvement in the Syrian civil war.
“A state of independence cannot be established if Lebanese parties or groups decide to be independent from the logic of the state, or if they accept to depart from the national consensus by deciding to cross the border and get involved in an armed conflict on the land of a brotherly state, thus exposing national unity and civil peace to danger,” Sleiman said in a televised speech, as quoted by Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.
Hezbollah said its intervention in Syria is aimed at protecting Shiite shrines from alleged attacks by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah also said this month that his fighters will remain in Syria for as much as necessary to foil what he said is an Israeli conspiracy against Syria and its allies.
With an indirect reference to Hezbollah’s weapons, President Sleiman said the Lebanese Army should have complete control over the use of arms inside the country’s territories.
“We cannot talk about independence if the state fails to spread its sole authority over all national territory, crack down on security ... violations, fight takfiri [groups] and terrorism, and unless the armed forces are the sole holders of weapons and the organizer of defense capabilities under the supervision of the political authority,” Sleiman said.
Sleiman also appealed for “an immediate withdrawal” from the Syria conflict, which has killed more than 120,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes since it erupted in March 2011.