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Arab states urge Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks to reporters on Monday after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Baabda, east of Beirut. (AP)
BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned on Nov. 4, will land in Cairo on Tuesday to meet the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi “to complement his international and Arab tours,” Hariri’s media office announced.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit arrived in Beirut on Monday — the day after his urgent meeting in the Egyptian capital with Arab foreign ministers, at which he condemned “the firing of an Iranian-made ballistic missile from Yemeni territories to Riyadh" and considered it "blatant aggression against Saudi Arabia and a threat to Arab national security.”

The statement released after the meeting held “the terrorist organization, Hezbollah, a major player in the Lebanese government, responsible for supporting terrorism and terrorist groups in Arab countries through providing them with advanced arms and ballistic missiles.”

Aboul Gheit heard Lebanese President Michel Aoun say: “Lebanon is not responsible for Arab or regional conflicts and had never attacked any country. Therefore, it must not pay the price for these conflicts."

Aoun stressed that “Lebanon faced Israeli aggression and managed to free its lands, but Israel continues to target Lebanon, which gives Lebanese people every right to resist and thwart Israel’s plans in every possible way.”

He also refused to “suggest that the Lebanese government plays a role in terrorist acts,” pointing out that “the stance of the permanent representative of Lebanon to the Arab League during the foreign ministers’ meeting reflects a strong national determination.”

Lebanon objected to “the describing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, as well as referring to it as being part of the government.”

In a statement released by the presidential palace after Aboul Gheit’s meeting with Aoun, Aboul Gheit said: “Arab states are keen on ensuring Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and role as well as protecting its unique political structure and refusing to allow any harm to get to it.”

The Arab League chief also told the media that he came to Lebanon “to explain to Aoun the circumstances surrounding the Arab League’s meeting and the decision made by the foreign ministers, which includes looking into Iran’s interference in Saudi, Bahraini, GCC and UAE affairs. The decision was adopted by the Arab Ministerial Quartet Committee, which was formed by the Arab League more than two years ago to address Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, and which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, along with the secretary-general of the Arab League as members.

“The foreign ministers’ decision was issued mainly to inform the United Nations and the Security Council of Iran’s interference and approach in the Arab world,” he added. “I have noticed that everyone showed interest in understanding the Lebanese structure, and no one wants, accepts or wishes to harm Lebanon.”

He continued: “It isn’t new or unusual for the decision to include stances regarding a specific Lebanese party; this has been going on for more than two years. Even when it referred to the Lebanese government, the reference was meant for a certain participation and not Lebanon as a whole.

“The formation of a new Lebanese government or the continuation of any situation in Lebanon is not something I would interfere in or comment about, and Prime Minister Hariri will come to Lebanon on Tuesday.”

He stressed that Arab countries were targeted by the ballistic missiles, especially Saudi Arabia, and this is the reason behind its anger. Observers of the decision will notice a reference to the UN Charter Article 51, which states that the targeted countries have the inherent right to defend themselves and respond to these ballistic missile attacks whenever and however they wish. According to the decision, those countries chose to resort to the UN's legitimate and legal diplomatic work and to turn to the Security Council.

Aboul Gheit visited the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, Nabih Berri, who commented on the outcomes of the Cairo meeting in a brief statement released by his media office, in which he said: “Pardon us in Lebanon for having fought Israel.”

After the Aboul Gheit-Berri meeting, Berri’s media office announced that he said: “Despite the explanation provided by the Arab League chief, I have reminded him of the decision’s introduction, which stresses the importance of ensuring that relations between Arab countries and Iran are based on the principle of good neighborliness. I have also reminded him of dozens of decisions issued by the Arab League during summits and ministerial meetings, which confirm the resistance’s right to liberate its lands and which support Lebanon in its fight against Israel. Besides, the decision’s reference to the Lebanese government is not a successful one at all — it is actually offensive given the government’s current state.”

In a statement, Abou Gheit repeated that he explained to Berri that “the decision did not refer to Lebanon as a whole, but to a specific party in a certain situation.”

He also repeated: “Everyone recognizes the uniqueness of the Lebanese political structure, and no one at all wishes to harm Lebanon or turn its lands into a stage for any Arab-Iranian conflict. I am certain about this and never heard anyone suggest otherwise.”

He stressed that “no one is accusing the Lebanese government of terrorism. The decision merely referred to a certain party that participates in the government, and the Arab League merely reflects the Arab world’s will or the outcomes of the ministerial meeting. It is an indirect way to demand that the Lebanese state or government speak to this partner and convince it to control its actions on Arab lands in a way that does not lead to forming alliances with non-Arab powers, and this is what was meant.”

In his comment on Berri’s statement, “Pardon us for having fought Israel,” Aboul Gheit said: “I come from a country that fought Israel for long decades. I support and stand with whoever fights Israel and rejects its injustice and aggression. I cannot say anything more.”

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