BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday met Christian Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, who is unhappy with the delay in forming a government due to the conditions put forward by the president.
The meeting took place as Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace following a similar breach of Lebanese waters on Wednesday night, when Israeli soldiers on a gunboat fired at Lebanese fishing boats, according to the Lebanese army command.
The Aoun-Al-Rai talks continued for 45 minutes. Afterwards, Aoun said that the purpose of the meeting was to wish each other happy holidays because circumstances prevented them from being at the Patriarchate at Christmas.
He said, however, that they had touched on “the general conditions that are still unannounced because all that happened with us is not reported in the media, and unfortunately, everyone in the media writes as they please.”
Aoun spoke of the “possibility” of a meeting between him and the prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, but did not specify a date for the meeting.
There is information that Al-Rai was arranging a meeting between Aoun and Hariri as part of his efforts to accelerate the formation of the government. This has reached stalemate as Aoun has not yet responded to the lineup suggested by Hariri a month ago in accordance with the French initiative — that it does not include ministers affiliated with politicians in power, but rather technocrats.
Hariri returned to Beirut on Thursday after spending the holidays abroad.
The media bureau of the president said: “There is no truth in the information that a meeting was to be held in Bkerke between Aoun and Hariri, under the auspices of Al-Rai. The truth is that Al-Rai made a similar proposal to the president during their Thursday meeting, and Aoun did not know about it in advance.”
The dispute between Hariri and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which is headed by the president’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, escalated a few days ago when Hariri’s media office announced its rejection of the FPM bloc’s holding “others responsible for the obstacles that the movement deliberately creates” in forming a government.
Hariri’s office said: “Hariri has carried out his national and constitutional duties to the fullest. He has presented the president with a government lineup of non-partisan specialists known for their competence and success, and this lineup is waiting for the president to finish studying it.”
Hariri’s office accused the FPM of being “the party that obstructed the country for more than two and a half years (in order to elect Aoun as president),” stressing that “it is the last to lecture others on wasting time and creating obstacles.”
Hariri’s office said that what impedes the formation of the government is the “insistence on impossible conditions that undermine everything stipulated in the French initiative and eliminate any hope for addressing the crisis, starting from stopping the collapse and ending with the reconstruction of what was destroyed by the Beirut Port blast.”
The vice president of the Future Movement, Mustafa Alloush, told Arab News: “Things have not changed. There is no change in attitudes and no pressure is being exerted to solve the complexes facing the government.”
He added: “We have to wait for the outcome of the meeting between Aoun and Al-Rai, but PM Hariri is committed to a government of 18 ministers and refuses to give the obstructing third to any party.”
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party, described the delay in forming a government as “a crime against the people of Lebanon.”
He said: “In spite of all the tragedies, the financial collapse, and society’s concern for their present and their fate, what impedes the formation of the government is not a disagreement over the nature of the required reforms, nor about which minister can implement reform better than the other, but about who takes what.”
Geagea added: “There is no hope for the current ruling group, and the only solution is to go immediately to early parliamentary elections.”
MP Anwar El-Khalil, of Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, blamed the president for the deterioration.
He said: “Thirty months of presidential vacancy, the investigation into the port explosion has not been completed, the country has the worse economic and financial indicators, 55 percent of the Lebanese are below the poverty line, deposits have evaporated, and the value of the Lebanese pound has declined by 78 percent. You impeded the judicial formations. There is no reform, especially in the electricity file of your son-in-law.”
Emirati ambassador to Lebanon, Hamad Saeed Al-Shamsi, visited Al-Rai on Thursday and said: “We believe Patriarch Al-Rai has a positive national role.”
Al-Shamsi also visited Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian and praised the “efforts made to form a new government that fulfils the ambitions and hopes of the Lebanese citizens.”