Prime Minister Saad Hariri Tuesday implicitly criticized Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah for failing to comply with the government’s dissociation policy toward regional conflicts and for verbally attacking Arab countries, in the latest escalation between the two sides ahead of next month’s general elections.
With only 18 days to go before Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nine years, Hariri urged his supporters to vote in high numbers, warning of attempts to control Beirut and its representatives, in a clear reference to Hezbollah and its allies, as well as other parties opposed to the Future Movement who are fielding candidates in the Beirut II district.
Hariri also appeared to seek assistance from Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian to help protect the identity of Beirut and its political decisions in the face of eight rival lists running against the Future Movement’s candidates.
“We are at an important turning point in the history of the country and the region, and our unity is fundamental to face the challenges, and the basis for the completion of the project to build Lebanon and protect it from the surrounding hurricanes,” Hariri said in a speech during a lunch he hosted at his Downtown Beirut residence in honor of Derian and other religious figures.
Former Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and candidates on the Future Movement’s “Future is for Beirut” list were also present.
Referring to the Syrian regime’s latest attacks on rebel-held towns in Eastern Ghouta, including an alleged chemical assault, he said: “I am working day and night to prevent the Syrian fire from reaching Lebanon. I emphasize the commitment to the dissociation policy, in light of the ongoing international conflict and the military developments that resulted from the chemical massacres in Douma.”
“I know, just as you do, that some are trying to circumvent the rules of dissociation and are using the electoral and media platforms to attack Arab brothers. This harms Lebanon’s interests and crosses the limits of national consensus in maintaining Lebanon’s relations with Arab countries,” Hariri added, clearly alluding to Hezbollah.In a televised speech during an electoral rally last week, Nasrallah criticized Future Movement officials for portraying the Beirut vote as “a battle to preserve the Arab identity of Beirut” in the face of the “Persian project,” a reference to Iran’s influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah’s growing political role. He also rejected claims by Hariri and the Future Movement that Hezbollah was attempting to control Beirut’s political decisions through the elections.
In another televised speech Sunday, Nasrallah accused Arab Gulf states of encouraging the United States and its allies to launch a large-scale military strike against Syria over the alleged poison gas attack in Douma.
“What we heard lately from one of the partisan electoral platforms is rejected, whether its attacks against the brotherly Arab countries or what relates to my positions warning against the dangers threatening Beirut’s Arabism and the attempts to control its political decision,” Hariri said.
“From the attacks on the Future Movement’s stances to defend Beirut’s decision, to the attacks on the Arabs and half of the universe, we no longer know where they [Hezbollah officials] want to take Lebanon.”
Hariri resigned on Nov. 4 last year while in Saudi Arabia but revoked that resignation following a Cabinet agreement on Dec. 5 that called on all components of the government, including Hezbollah, to comply with the policy of dissociation from regional conflicts and noninterference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
Hariri indirectly accused the Iran-backed Hezbollah of using Lebanon as “a mailbox” in the escalating regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and its archrival Iran.
“We chose to protect the country from the repercussions of wars and we are touring the world to save the Lebanese economy, while they returned to transforming Lebanon into a mailbox to send political and military messages on behalf of regional powers,” the prime minister said.
“It is also not acceptable to outbid on our Arabism, as well as specify criteria for this Arabism. In this regard, I tell everyone that Beirut’s Arabism does not need a certificate of good conduct from anyone. Beirut’s Arabism is real and genuine. It is not fake,” Hariri added.
He renewed his call on Future supporters to vote in high numbers on May 6 to foil attempts by others to control Beirut and its representatives.
“This institution [Dar al-Fatwa, the grand mufti’s seat] is concerned with the political and national affairs at this stage in the history of Lebanon, particularly in Beirut where there seems to be a deliberate plan to scatter the voices of its families so they serve the electoral interest of another list,” Hariri said.
Addressing his words to Derian, Hariri said: “My appeal to you today is a call for solidarity to protect the identity of Beirut and its national and political decision. This requires inviting the residents of Beirut to increase the vote percentage to the maximum, and prevent any attempt to control the capital and its representatives.”
In another speech later Tuesday, Hariri described the elections as “crucial” for Beirut, saying there are some – who he did not name – who were trying to eliminate the Future Movement, the Qoreitem palace, the residence of the late Rafik Hariri, and his Downtown Beirut residence.
“Some criticized my words, and wondered about Beirut’s identity. Beirut is Arab and its identity is peace, moderation, dialogue, knowledge and culture. We want to preserve its streets, roads, neighborhoods, people and history, while some want to erase this history and change the names. What are you going to tell them in these elections?” Hariri said, addressing Future supporters during a rally held in the garden of Qoreitem palace for his neighbors.
Meanwhile, Hariri is set to chair a Cabinet session at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Grand Serail to discuss usual agenda topics but not the chronic electricity crisis, a political source said.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, accused parties whom he did not name of hindering a solution to the electricity problem. “The electricity issue is being obstructed whenever it is brought up [in the Cabinet]. As soon as the energy minister [last week] presented 13 proposals to solve it, there was an uproar and media outlets summed it up with one item: power barges which were mentioned partially only in one proposal,” Bassil told reporters after chairing the weekly meeting of the FPM’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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