Future Movement wraps constituent conference, elects Hariri as leader

Movement insists on international tribunal, March 14 bloc, relations with Syria

Hariri: No place for schism in our approach

Hoss calls for open dialogue under Lebanon president’s auspices

Arab League chief says concerned over political haggling in Lebanon

The political recommendations issued by the Future Movement following the party’s two-day founding conference echoed the major political stances adopted by the movement’s leader, Premier Saad Hariri, since 2005.

The recommendations stressed the Future Movement’s commitment to achieving justice in the assassination of its founder, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, as well as building upon a new positive page in ties with Syria while upholding the movement’s loyalty to the March 14 alliance principles.

Another major issue raised in the movement’s political recommendations was that the party saw no alternative to “diplomatic resistance” as a starter, followed by military action of the Lebanese Army if required to liberate Lebanese occupied territories.

“The Future Movement sees no contradiction or conflict between justice and civil peace but believes that civil peace is preserved by justice and stresses that no compromise on justice will take place,” article six of the recommendations said in reference to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The recommendations also stressed the Future Movement’s commitment to the March 14 alliance’s principles, adding that the Future Movement remains one of the coalition’s pioneers.

“The conference stresses that the Future Movement is not only a political and organizational constituent of the March 14 alliance, but the founder by the blood of its martyr leader and of the national movement that surpassed all sectarian and geographic boundaries,” article 12 said.

“Also, it considers the movement to be responsible for the continuation and revival [of the March 14 alliance] as a reference for Muslim-Christian partnership and a guarantee for civil peace,” Ahmad Hariri, who was elected the party’s secretary general, said during a news conference to announce the recommendations.

As for ties with Damascus, the Future Movement voiced support for Premier Saad Hariri’s initiative in turning a new page in relations to serve both countries’ interests and to pave the way for a Lebanese-Syrian joint project that would promote inter-Arab ties.

“The conference also highlights the importance of establishing diplomatic ties at the level of embassies between Damascus and Beirut,” Ahmad Hariri read.

Tackling the liberation of Lebanese territories occupied by Israel, the statement stressed that the Future Movement saw “no alternative to diplomatic resistance undertaken by the Lebanese state and the use of military capabilities if needed.”

“Thus, the determination to provide the Lebanese Army with the necessary equipment and armament,” article six of the recommendations added.

The issue of liberating occupied Lebanese territories was the focus of domestic debate during the formulation of the policy statement of Saad Hariri’s Cabinet. The policy statement stressed the Lebanese Army, people and resistance’s right to liberate occupied territories.

March 14 parties want the Lebanese state be the sole authority to command decisions of peace and war.

The statement also underlined the Future Movement’s commitment to lay the foundations for regional peace as “peace in Lebanon goes hand in hand with peace in the region.”

Ahmad Hariri also emphasized that the Future Movement would not bear a Sunni identity but would rather establish the foundations of a modern Lebanese state away from sectarian and religious alignments.

“The conference looks with great concern to Christian emigration from certain Middle Eastern states and believes that defending the Christian presence is an Arab and Muslim responsibility as much as it is a Christian one,” article three said.

The statement also emphasized its support for the Palestine cause as well as the Palestinian refugees’ right of return in line with the Arab Peace Initiative.

“The conference stresses its support to the Palestinian refugees’ humanitarian rights in Lebanon and emphasized that the issue of humanitarian rights should not be tied to naturalization which is rejected,” article 10 read.

Hariri called for "calm" in Lebanon in the face of expectations that a UN-backed court may implicate members of the powerful Hezbollah group in the 2005 murder of his father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

His comments came two days after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah revealed that he expected rogue members of his Shiite party to be indicted for Rafiq Hariri's assassination five years ago.

"There are those who fear or even hope that the (Hariri) murder case will unleash a Lebanese crisis or confessional strife," the prime minister said in a speech to members of his Future Movement.

"There are attempts... to organize campaigns aimed at sowing confusion and concern in the minds of the Lebanese people," Hariri said.

"There is no need for this fear... We call for calm," he added.

The UN tribunal's president, Antonio Cassese, said earlier this year he expects an indictment in the case between September and December, sparking fears in already tense Lebanon of a repeat of the violence that brought the country close to a new civil war in 2008.

The Hezbollah chief told a news conference via video link that Hariri told him some members of the Shiite movement would be indicted by the Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the murder.

"I was personally informed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri before his visit to Washington (in May) that the tribunal will accuse some undisciplined members" of Hezbollah, Nasrallah said.

"That's where things seem to be heading," he said, adding that the impending decision by the UN-backed court had pushed Lebanon into a "very sensitive phase."

Hariri did not confirm or deny Nasrallah's accounts of their conversation.

But MPs from the prime minister's bloc denied that he had told Nasrallah Hezbollah members would be indicted. "Hariri did not inform Nasrallah about the indictment sheet simply because he is not privy to its contents," MP Hadi Hbeich said in a radio interview last week.

MP Ammar Houri confirmed that Hariri and Nasrallah had met in May but said they had discussed "only press reports" suggesting that the UN-back court could link Hezbollah to Rafiq Hariri's murder.

Analysts have warned that Nasrallah's surprise announcement could trigger new violence in Lebanon like that in May 2008 in which more than 100 people were killed when Hezbollah staged a spectacular takeover of mainly Sunni west Beirut following a crackdown on the party.

Oussama Safa, who heads the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, said the country had a "50-50 chance" of sliding back into chaos.

Politicians from the March 14 rejected last week a call by the leader of Hezbollah to review their past behavior, saying that the resistance should instead commit itself to the Lebanese state.

Their comments came one day after Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah declared that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon would likely indict rogue members of the party in the assassination of former Premier Rafiq Hariri.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri made no public response to Nasrallah’s news conference, in which the resistance leader said Hariri had informed him several months ago that such an indictment was on its way.

The general coordinator of March 14, former Jbeil MP Fares Soueid, said Nasrallah was “asking for a surrender, and not a self-evaluation” of the coalition’s previous stances, which involved strident accusations that Syria was behind the assassination.

“Nasrallah’s remarks were inaccurate, and rejected by the majority of Lebanese; he categorized them as ‘Israelis’ if they demand the truth, and justice, and ‘patriots’ if they do away with the logic of the truth and justice,” Soueid said in a radio interview.

“There’s one thing that can save Lebanon from domestic problems and strife, and that is for Hezbollah to return to the Lebanese state, according to the state’s conditions,” Soueid said.

Batroun MP Antoine Zahra, a Lebanese Forces official, said Nasrallah had accused March 14 of “dragging the country toward division and crisis, and [didn’t recognize] the achievement of our second independence, democracy, or development in national [political] life.”

Zahra said that “no one in Lebanon wants to target a Lebanese group, whoever it is, but this is one thing, and making accusation against the STL, based on a hypothetical situation, is another.”

Zahra said that there had “perhaps been exaggerations in certain political positions taken, but not by all March 14 groups.”

“The list of conditions being placed on March 14 leaders doesn’t a self-evaluation, but the abandonment of everything,” Zahra said, asking sarcastically “was everything ideal” during the period of Syria’s presence here.

For his part, former Tripoli MP Mustafa Alloush said that Nasrallah’s tone was “less harsh” compared to an earlier address, and stressed that any indictment by the STL should be backed by strong evidence.

“If it is a weak indictment, the Future Movement will have another position,” Alloush said.

Nasrallah blamed March 14 members for instigating sectarian tension in Lebanon in recent years, a period that included the killing of dozens of Syrian workers in Lebanon, along with the imprisonment of four senior security and military officials who were later released without being charged in the Hariri assassination.

National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun said he thought Nasrallah’s news conference was “inspired by” a foreign party, blaming Syria for pushing the Hezbollah leader to focus on the possibility that Damascus would be cleared in the Hariri case. “If anyone wants compensation from Syria,” Chamoun said, “it’s the Lebanese people.”

Beirut MP Michel Pharaon, a March 14 member, said that Nasrallah’s criticism of the movement’s actions over the last five years was undeserved.

He said his colleagues in March 14 had decided to take part in National Dialogue sessions, re-establish formal ties with Syria, participate in the Doha Accord of 2008 to end civil strife, and share power in a National Unity Cabinet, as well as discuss a national defense strategy.

In a statement, Pharaon said the issue of the STL was supported by a national consensus, and that the important thing was to remain committed to such policies, which were a part of the government’s policy statement.

Akkar MP Hadi Hobeish said Nasrallah’s latest remarks didn’t serve the interest of Hezbollah, accusing the party’s leader of “errors.” One of them, Hobeish said, was the claim that Hariri informed Nasrallah of the STL indictment’s content in May.

“This isn’t accurate at all,” Hobeish said, “because Hariri doesn’t know about the [content] of the indictment,” describing meetings between the two as tackling “ordinary matters.”

Hobeish said his rivals in the parliamentary minority were the ones who should be re-evaluating their policies of the last five years, which he noted involved a tent-city protest in downtown Beirut, and several weeks of civil strife in May 2008.

“No one is infallible,” Hobeish said, “but portraying the situation as if March 14 groups are wrong, while March 8 groups are saints,” is inaccurate, and covers up the reality, and the flagrant errors” that were made.

As for the parliamentary minority camp, Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh, an Amal Movement official, defended Nasrallah’s remarks and predicted that they would be a “prelude to a period of stability,” and not tension.

Marada leader Suleiman Franjieh told a television interview on Hezbollah’s Manar television that the STL was less an international tribunal than an expression of international political “will,” and said that a campaign was afoot to corner Hezbollah, after an earlier failure during the July 2006 war.

Franjieh said it was unreasonable to expect Hezbollah to stand by without defending itself.

Former Prime Minister Salim Hoss, meanwhile, called on the STL to “re-evaluate” its impending decision, if the current speculation about the upcoming indictment turned out to be true.