Hariri ‘will quit if Hezbollah interferes’

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri greets the audience during a regional banking conference in Beirut recently. (AP)
Updated 27 November 2017
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Hariri ‘will quit if Hezbollah interferes’

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun held consultations on Monday with representatives of political parties in Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition government as he declared that Hezbollah must stop interfering in regional conflicts and accept a neutral policy to bring an end to the political crisis.
According to Reuters, Hariri told French broadcaster CNews that he was ready to stay on as prime minister if Hezbollah accepted to stick by the state policy of staying out of regional conflicts.
The premier, however, said he would resign if Hezbollah did not keep to that, although consultations so far had been positive.
“I think in the interest of Lebanon, Hezbollah is carrying out a positive dialogue. They know we have to remain neutral in the region,” he added in the interview recorded on Monday.
Aoun’s talks on Monday took place after Hariri last Wednesday put off his resignation upon the president’s request to find a way out of the current crisis. Hariri had unexpectedly announced his resignation from Riyadh on Nov. 4, protesting that Iran and Hezbollah had taken hold of Lebanon, and he feared for his life.
The talks concerned the concept of “self-distancing” and how to apply it. Most of those whom Aoun consulted supported activating the Lebanese administration and reaffirming the ministerial statement and the political settlement, which resulted in naming Aoun president and Hariri prime minister until the next parliamentary elections in May. Aoun did not address the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons. 
The ministers and deputies who met with Aoun made statements in the lobby of Baabda Palace to voice their stances. Hezbollah’s allies preferred to discuss “reaffirming the ministerial statement,” which does not include the term “self-distancing.” 
The Hariri government stated in its ministerial statement that it is “committed to what was stated in President Michel Aoun’s presidential speech, when he said that Lebanon, which is moving between the mines, is still free from the fire burning around it in the region because its people’s stances are one and they are holding on to civil peace. 
“Therefore, Lebanon must distance itself from external conflicts while respecting the Charter of the League of Arab States, especially Article 8, and adopting an independent foreign policy based on Lebanon’s supreme interest and its respect for international law in order to protect its peace, stability and unity.”
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, representative of the Amal Movement, said: “We are committed to the agreed-upon values in the ministerial statement and to our national charter. We are positive that an understanding will be reached to restore work in the Cabinet and spare Lebanon any strike to its political and security stability.” 
Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos, representative of the Marada Movement, said: “We wished for this government to continue. We are fully committed to its ministerial statement, under the umbrella of the Taif Agreement and the National Reconciliation Accord.”
Mohammed Raad, who chairs Hezbollah’s political wing Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, avoided discussing the self-distancing policy. “We discussed protecting Lebanon, guaranteeing the independence of its decisions, and restoring political life back to normal, and all opinions were identical,” he said. “We hope to start putting them into action.”
The head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Hanna Al-Nashif, said: “We must define self-distancing scientifically and legally so that our speech doesn’t target certain countries and to avoid getting Lebanon involved in alliances rejected by all of us. We want Lebanon to be united, protect its security, sovereignty and unity, and embrace all Lebanese people in one strong social fabric.” 
MP Sami Gemayel, leader of the Phalange Party, called for “the complete neutrality of Lebanon, and not the self-distancing policy, which is a broad concept with neither legal nor constitutional bases.” 
He stressed that “neutrality cannot be achieved without sovereignty, and there is no state without sovereignty. We cannot take any step toward building a state unless the state is the master of its decision and the people are the ones deciding their future. Therefore, we believe the main requirement for achieving neutrality is the sovereignty of the state and its exclusive possession of weapons. 
“I am sorry no one is tackling the issue of weapons inside Lebanon,” he added. 
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said: “We must do what it takes to keep Lebanon outside the region’s conflicts. This should be seen in our actions and not only our words. Self-distancing means actually walking out of the region’s crises. Each of us can have an opinion, and we will continue to say that the regime in Syria cannot stay; this is our political opinion. 
“In the first stage, the military decision must be made by the state, and at a later stage we will discuss a final solution for Hezbollah’s weapons,” he added.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said it would be wise not to bring up the question of Hezbollah’s weapons in discussions.
“If we brought up this question, we will return to previous rounds of futile talks on this matter, which we held in the days of Berri in 2006 and in the days of President Michel Suleiman,” he explained.
“Let’s stick to discussing self-distancing and how to apply it.”


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 16 July 2018
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.