Hariri revokes resignation after consensus deal

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri attends a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace of Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on Dec. 5, 2017. (AFP/Joseph Eid)
Updated 05 December 2017

Hariri revokes resignation after consensus deal

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has withdrawn his resignation, a month after his shock resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia.

Hariri's decision to rescind came after a consensus deal reached with rival political parties.

The announcement came at the end of the first Cabinet meeting since Lebanon was thrown into a political crisis after Hariri's stunning move a month ago.

The Cabinet assured in an emergency meeting "the commitment of the Lebanese government in all its political components to dissociate itself from any disputes, conflicts, wars or internal affairs of Arab countries in order to preserve Lebanon's political and economic relations with its Arab brothers."

The draft of the statement was agreed after numerous communications and meetings held quietly in the past few days, involving President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hariri, Hezbollah and other parties.

In a statement, Hariri hoped that "the Cabinet meeting would present a new opportunity for solidarity to protect the country. We all can see how the region is boiling, and we should not have any illusions that any miscalculated step could lead the country down a dangerous path."

Hariri said in the statement: "I am the prime minister of Lebanon and today there is a death sentence against me in Syria, and Hezbollah has been classified as a terrorist (organization) in the Gulf countries. All I am saying is that we need to spare the country from getting involved in the regional conflicts and preserve our stability.”

He added: “However, this does not relieve us from realizing the current problem and the concerns of many brotherly countries, especially Gulf countries, which sent us many clear messages concerning interference in their internal affairs. This means that there is a problem which we cannot ignore, and which should not continue. Attacking the Gulf countries in the media and in politics threatens the interests of Lebanon, especially the Lebanese expatriates working in the Gulf."

Hariri stressed: “Our interest lies in the protection of our historical relations with Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf (countries), and depriving those who do not wish us well from a pretext to draw Lebanon into chaos."

Hariri noted that "we are not in the business of confirming Lebanon's Arabism. This is a settled issue, and the Taif agreement is as clear as the sun. But we want to send a message to our Arab brothers that Lebanon does not want to damage its relations Arab countries or harm any Arab country.

"The Lebanese government, in all its political components, has committed to distance itself from all conflicts, wars, and internal affairs of Arab states," according to the Cabinet statement read out by Hariri.

Minutes after Hariri's announcement, Paris said the Lebanese premier would attend talks on Friday in France on the situation in Lebanon, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will also attend.

"The aim is to support the political process (in Lebanon) at a crucial moment," the French Foreign Ministry said, according to Agency France-Presse. ”It will send a message both to the various parties in Lebanon and to countries in the region."​

One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 37 min 25 sec ago

One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.