BEIRUT: During meetings with Lebanese officials on Wednesday, French presidential envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian called for “the acceleration of presidential elections” in Lebanon, “in accordance with the position announced by the Quintet Committee in July.” He added that he was ready to provide any assistance required to help achieve this.
After meeting with the caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, Le Drian said his aim was “to secure Lebanese consensus.”
During its meeting in Doha in July, the Quintet Committee for Lebanon — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, France and the US — highlighted “the importance of Lebanese parliament members fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities and proceeding to elect a president for the country.”
Outlining the desired qualities of a president, the committee said the successful candidate should “represent honesty, unite the nation, prioritize the country’s interests, prioritize the well-being of citizens, and form a wide-ranging coalition to implement essential economic reforms, particularly those recommended by the International Monetary Fund.”
The presidency has been vacant for more than a year, since Michel Aoun’s term ended on Oct. 31, 2022. The parliament has been unable to elect a successor because of deep divisions between Hezbollah, and its allies, and opposition parliamentary blocs, primarily Christian parties. The disagreements revolve around the desired qualifications for a president.
The political rift has intensified since Hezbollah opened up a Lebanese southern front to carry out military operations in the name of “supporting Gaza.”
Le Drian’s visit included meetings with Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, former leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, and the head of the party’s parliamentary bloc, Taimur Jumblatt.
He also held talks with Commander of the Lebanese Army Gen. Joseph Aoun; Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi; the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea; and the leader of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, who is a candidate for the presidency and has the support of Hezbollah.
According to reports, the French envoy “reintroduced the idea of holding a consultative meeting among Lebanese officials to discuss the presidential file.”
During a Cabinet meeting, Mikati said he had informed Le Drian that “the top priority is to stop the Israeli aggression in South Lebanon and Gaza. We in the government work hard to provide services to the people in the south despite the difficult circumstances and appreciate their steadfastness and sacrifices.”
Coinciding Le Drian’s visit, Israeli forces on the southern Lebanese front reportedly violated the extended ceasefire in the wider conflict by firing on a Lebanese army patrol in the town of Houla, near an Israeli military site.
A spokesperson for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, Andrea Tenenti, said that UN Resolution 1701, adopted 17 years ago with the aim of resolving the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, “is still valid despite the challenges it faces. We are currently facing challenges but the priorities and main monitoring of Resolution 1701 remain in place.”
He told Russia’s Sputnik news agency: “The role of our mission leader is to collect messages and perhaps also dismantle the conflict, reduce tension and prevent misunderstandings. Therefore, this conflict has remained largely balanced until now and the situation has been calmer in the past few days.
“The cooperation between UNIFIL, the Lebanese government and the Lebanese Army is still very good. We closely coordinate with the Lebanese Army and hold frequent meetings and discussions with the Lebanese authorities to calm the situation and reduce tensions.”
Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat, head of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, continues to hold talks with officials in Lebanon.
After a meeting with the governor of South Lebanon, Mansour Daou, Gauchat said: “Our work as international peacekeeping forces is based on monitoring and recording our observations and recording them in reports that reach the Security Council, which is the body authorized to discuss and make decisions related to stopping Israeli attacks.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah said it has completed an assessment of buildings, houses and other private properties destroyed or damaged by Israeli airstrikes in the southern area adjacent to the Blue Line during 48 days of hostilities.
Hassan Fadlallah, one of the party’s MPs, said: “Thirty-seven buildings were completely demolished and 11 buildings were completely burned. There are approximately 1,500 houses, from Naqoura to Shabaa and Kfar Shuba, that have varying degrees of damage, ranging from severe damage to broken windows, along with damage to vehicles and cultivated fields.”