Future Bloc convention issues political, economic recommendations

Lebanese army bolsters presence in south

Egypt’s foreign minister warns of use of force inside Lebanon

Israel threatens to strike Lebanese government organizations

Premier Saad Hariri discussed Tuesday with Marada Movement leader Sleiman Franjieh the latest domestic and regional developments amid ongoing debate over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The meeting held at Franjieh’s residence in the northern town of Bnashii was attended by Future Movement MPs Samir Jisr, Atef Majdalani and Hariri’s adviser Hani Hammoud, along with Minister of State and Marada Movement official Youssef Saade and Marada bloc MPs Estephan Doueihi, Selim Karam and Emile Rahme.

“Discussions tackled the latest domestic and regional developments as well as efforts to promote an atmosphere of dialogue among all Lebanese parties in the interest of Lebanon,” a statement by the Lebanese premier’s press office said.

Discussions were followed by a closed-door meeting between Franjieh and Hariri, it said.

Well-informed sources told The Daily Star that talks were positive as both parties agreed to keep channels of dialogue open away from provocative rhetoric.

Following the assassination of Hariri’s father former Premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, tensions governed the relations between the Future Movement leader and Franjieh, a close ally of Damascus, during four years of broken ties between the parliamentary majority and Syria.

After the June 2009 parliamentary polls and prior to Hariri’s formation of a Cabinet, the then premier-designate paid a visit to Franjieh as ties warmed up between the Future Movement and Syria following a Syrian-Saudi rapprochement.

Since then Hariri has visited Damascus four times, and both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hariri have stressed the importance of promoting dialogue among Lebanese parties.

Franjieh told Al-Manar television last Friday that despite the premier’s visits to Damascus, Hariri and the Lebanese opposition “do not seem to be on the same wavelength.”

Officials of the Future Movement and Hizbullah have recently traded accusations of destabilizing the country and raising sectarian tensions after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah condemned the UN-backed tribunal as an Israeli project.

Meanwhile, The political recommendations issued by the Future Movement following the party’s two-day founding conference on Monday 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 Rafik 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.

On the other hand, The Lebanese Army will deploy an additional 1,500 troops in the south, almost a month after a spate of attacks against UN peacekeeping troops in the area, France’s ambassador in Beirut said on Monday.

“I just met [Prime Minister Saad] Hariri and we discussed the UNIFIL issue,” Dennis Pietton announced following talks at the Grand Serail. “Hariri informed me about the deployment of a complete Brigade of the Lebanese Army in south Lebanon starting today (Monday).”

A Brigade equates to roughly 1,500 additional troops, who will be tasked with improving coordination with UNIFIL troops on patrols in villages and close to the Blue Line.

Referring to the new development, Pietton said it is “news that we hoped to hear because it is important to support Lebanese troops in the south, in accordance with [UN Security Council] Resolution 1701 at the time of its implementation.

“This step announced by the Lebanese government is a positive development which will be met with praise by Lebanon’s partner in UNIFIL,” he added.

Earlier this month, two patrols undertaken by UNIFIL’s French contingent were attacked by angry residents, who hurled eggs and stones, injuring at least three peacekeepers. In one incident, a UNIFIL patrol leader was accosted and was disarmed of his weapon.

The attacks prompted a wave of domestic and international reaction, with Beirut-based ambassadors and UN officials, both in Lebanon an New York, demanding that UNIFIL be allowed full freedom of movement in its mandated operations area.

UNIFIL heads were forced to undertake a series of reconciliation meetings with local mayors, mukhtars and representatives of several of the south’s villages.

Defense Minister Elias Murr had announced that more Lebanese Army soldiers would be mobilized in the south following the attacks, but did not specify numbers.

A security source in south Lebanon told The Daily Star that the deployment of extra Army troops would continue for the next few days.

“The region, from north Abu al-Osood to the south of Tyre, going through the south Litani crossing in Qasmieh, will be under the control of the 8th [Lebanese Army] Brigade, with more than 1,500 soldiers deployed on a permanent basis,” one official said. The source added that previously installed Army troops numbered just 400, hailing from the 6th and 7th brigades. It said that the 5th brigade would monitor the West Sector of UNIFIL’s mandate area, from the coastal cities of Tyre and Naqoura, along the Blue Line to Marjayoun.

“This deployment will be sufficient when it comes to the number of soldiers in the sector,” it said and added that all additional troops would be fully operational in the south by late August.

Pietton, after meeting Hariri, confirmed that several prominent French officials would be heading to Beirut in the near future.

“We discussed the regional situation and potential future visits by important heads of state to Beirut. It was a comprehensive discussion,” he said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul-Gheit warned on Monday against undermining Lebanon’s stability by resorting to force to resolve regional and international disputes.

Abul-Gheit made his statements ahead of scheduled talks between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in Egypt on Wednesday aimed at “coordinating” policy on Lebanese developments ahead of the Saudi king’s visit to Beirut on Friday.

The expected diplomatic visits to Beirut by King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to Beirut come amid growing domestic debate over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

March 14 parties and Hezbollah continue to trade accusation of destabilizing the country.

The rising domestic tensions also coincide with statements by Israeli officials warning of upcoming tensions in Lebanon in September.

“Hinting at resorting to force on the Lebanese domestic scene by any party is unacceptable,” Abul-Gheit said in a thinly veiled reference to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s warning on Monday that he would not allow anyone to harm the dignity of the resistance.

Nasrallah has said that he expects the STL to indict “rogue members of Hezbollah” on the basis of fabricated evidence and has condemned the UN-backed tribunal as an “Israeli project” aimed to undermining the resistance.

Without naming Nasrallah, Abul-Gheit stressed that the STL’s work should not be anticipated by “jumping to conclusions that would undermine Lebanese domestic stability.”

“The STL has released certain individuals and that should boost its credibility,” Abul-Gheit said, referring to four top Lebanese security officials who were arrested in 2005 on suspicion of involvement in former Premier Rafik Hariri’s murder. The four were later released in April 2009.

“The May 7, 2008 events should not be repeated,” Abul-Gheit said, in reference to bloody clashes between opposition and pro-government gunmen following the Cabinet’s decision to dismantle Hezbollah’s telecommunication network.

The clashes ended after Lebanese political leaders met in Qatar and adopted the Doha Accord, which led to the formation of a national unity Cabinet granting the Hezbollah-led opposition veto power in the government.

Abul-Gheit said Egypt has followed up on the establishment of the STL and its work and believed in the importance of uncovering the truth and implementing justice.

“There is no international party that could amend the track of the STL’s work,” Abul-Gheit said, adding that “Egypt will continue to support Lebanese institutions.”

Commenting on the Saudi king’s expected visit to Lebanon as part of a regional tour on the Arab world, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said the Saudi monarch opposed resorting to violence in Lebanon under any circumstances and was committed to preserving Lebanese civil peace.

After a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Geagea said March 14 parties regard the STL as the highest international judicial reference until further notice.

“There are unfounded claims and whoever is warning of strife is preparing for it,” he said, adding that “it feels like individuals in Hezbollah are working to achieve the goal that they claim the STL is working to achieve.”

“When the indictment is issued, if it is not backed by evidence, it is not you who will reject it but rather us. But if the indictment is backed by proof, you will have to accept it as is or submit other evidence to the STL and the public,” he added.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri denied that any domestic or international party had accused Hezbollah of involvement in the murder.

“If there were any facts or evidence, the right side to receive them is the STL rather than the public,” Houri said in response to Nasrallah’s recent statements.

On the other hand, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Tel Aviv would strike directly at the Lebanese government, should violence break out the next time.

In an interview with the Washington Post published Monday, the minister said, "if it happens that Hezbollah will shoot into Tel Aviv, we will not run after each…launcher of some rocket in all Lebanon. We'll see the government of Lebanon responsible."

"We will see it as legitimate to hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state, not just to Hezbollah," said Barak.

Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance movement, however, has repeatedly dismissed the accusations that it fires rockets into Israel.

The movement says such allegations are part of Israeli propaganda which aims to justify another invasion.

The Israeli regime has launched two wars against Lebanon in 2000 and 2006. The second round of the all-out offensives killed about 1,200 Lebanese -- mostly civilians.

However, Tel Aviv on both occasions fell short of achieving any of its objectives and Hezbollah forced the Israeli military into retreating.

Tension between Lebanon and Israel has increased in recent months as Beirut arrested several people on suspicion of spying for Tel Aviv.

Dozens of people, including members of Lebanon's telecommunications personnel, have been arrested since last year on suspicion of collaborating with the Israeli spy agency, Mossad.