Jumblatt hails Prince Saud al-Faisal’s statements on Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Syria, Iran

Nasrallah accuses STL of bias in favor of Israel, Bellemare rejects accusations and requests evidence

Clinton believes indictment step on the road to justice

Tensions, quarrels inside Lebanese parliament

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt praised Wednesday the statements made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who urged the Lebanese to respond reasonably to the indictment issued last week by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

“We laud the responsible statements released by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal concerning the STL and the need for the Lebanese to treat it rationally and with calm,” said Jumblatt in a statement released by the party.

According to Jumblatt, Faisal’s statements match his own stances on the Netherlands-based international court and the importance of justice and stability in Lebanon.

“This Saudi stance is a continuation of many previous statements in which the kingdom reiterated its support for Lebanon’s stability and its rejection of the country falling into instability and civil strife,” the statement quoted Jumblatt as saying.

“We hope that this Saudi stance will become an example to all parties in the country to start considering the current time as a highly critical one,” said Jumblatt, adding that he urged everyone to use this period as an opportunity to restart dialogue among the Lebanese.

“It [Saudi Arabia’s message] should ultimately lead to the resumption of national dialogue, which remains the only path to solving the contested issues in the country,” Jumblatt added.

In a joint news conference with his British counterpart William Hague in Jeddah Wednesday, Faisal said that the Lebanese should continue “to work to fulfill justice and resort to reason.”

According to Faisal, the indictment should not have negative consequences on Lebanon’s stability because all parties in the country had voted in favor of the establishment of the international court. “Everyone voted in favor of establishing the tribunal, including the political groups opposing the outcome of the tribunal at the moment,” Faisal noted.

In agreement with Faisal, Jumblatt also stressed the importance of political solutions rather than security solutions in Syria.

We also support Faisal’s statement on the ongoing developments in Syria and the importance of engaging in serious dialogue for political and economic reform to establish a new stage in a new Syria,” said Jumblatt.

Activists say that more than 1,300 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the anti-government demonstrations in the country four months ago.

Jumblatt also praised Faisal’s role in the ongoing dialogue in the Gulf state of Bahrain, adding that Saudi Arabia would help Bahrain exit its crisis.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said Saturday four members of his group indicted by the U.N. court probing the assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri were unjustly accused, reiterating that the resistance would not cooperate with the tribunal, which he blasted as having links with Western intelligence agencies.

Speaking on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar Television, Nasrallah said the four men who were indicted Thursday had been victims of a corrupt and biased court aimed at tarnishing the image of "the anti-Israeli resistance."

“The four men have been unjustly accused,” Nasrallah said. “[Those indicted] brothers of the resistance have a proud legacy in fighting the Israeli occupation in Lebanon.”

The Hezbollah chief, who has previously warned that his group would “cut off the hands” of anyone who tried to apprehend members of his group if indicted by the court, said the four would never be arrested, but would be tried in absentia.

“They will not be able to arrest them in one year, two [years], nor in 30 or 300 years will they be able to arrest [them].” An STL delegation Thursday handed Lebanon’s state prosecutor an indictment and arrest warrants for four suspects.

Lebanon has 30 days to carry out the arrest warrants.

Nasrallah made use of the occasion to reiterate his earlier statements that the international court was a “U.S.-Israeli project” and had several objectives, but most importantly sowing civil strife between the different Muslim sects in the country.

“The most dangerous objective of the court is to instigate strife, a civil war or a Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon,” Nasrallah said, adding that he would not allow the indictment to drag the country into unrest.

“There will not be sectarian strife in Lebanon, or between Sunnis and Shiites,” the Hezbollah chief said, accusing some Christians in the rival March 14 coalition of harboring dreams of such scenarios.

During the speech Nasrallah questioned the credibility of STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare and criticized the prosecutor’s team of investigators, whom Nasrallah claimed had ties to Western intelligence agencies and had worked against the resistance.

“If Bellemare was fair, he would have at least employed objective experts and advisers with no animosity or prejudice against any party that they are investigating,” Nasrallah said, adding that one of Bellemare’s consultants was an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency.

“One of Bellemare's consultants is a high-ranking officer in the CIA who [we] have accused of working against Hezbollah for 15 years and followed Imad Mughniyeh and is involved in the CIA massacre in Beer Abed [in Lebanon], which resulted in the death of dozens of people,” Nasrallah said.

The Hezbollah chief’s speech, which lasted over an hour, was interspersed with video presentations with evidence claiming to show how members of the STL had affiliations with Western intelligence agencies, including an Australian with alleged ties to a U.S. intelligence agency, a British investigator, claimed to be an expert on fighting Islamic terrorism, a former American officer, a French-Lebanese legal consultant for the STL who allegedly worked against the resistance and Robert Baer, who Nasrallah said was a CIA agent.

Nasrallah also took aim at Gerhard Lehman, the former deputy president of the investigative committee in the case of the assassination of Hariri.

“We will reveal a case ... where Lehman sold affidavits and confessions for money,” Nasrallah said before Al-Manar aired footage of Lehman allegedly receiving money in return for documents related to the investigation.

Nasrallah went on to question the motives behind the repeated leaks from the U.N.-backed court to the media, saying: “One of the most important conditions is the secrecy of the investigation and the whole world knows that nothing was secretive about this investigation since everything was published in [the media].”

He also said that the leaks to the media had been intentional and aimed at tarnishing the image of the resistance, adding that the timing of the leaks of the names of four Hezbollah members was a mechanism to harm and bring down Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s recently formed Cabinet.

The STL delegation handed over the indictment to Lebanese authorities on the day when the Cabinet was meeting to finalize and approve its policy statement.

One of Nasrallah’s most damning accusations targeted the president of the STL, Antonio Cassese, claiming that he was a “great friend” of Israel's.

“Cassese is a close friend of [many] Israelis,” Nasrallah said, adding that Cassese held prejudices against his group.

“The one who is supposed to govern the tribunal is a great friend of Israel and holds prejudices against the resistance,” Nasrallah said.

“He thinks the resistance is a terrorist organization … he is prejudiced and thinks we are terrorists,” he added.

“[The tribunal] is unprofessional and the indictment is merely a step toward more results of this American-Israeli court. It is an aggression against us and the resistance and we will not allow it to drag Lebanon into any strife. The only victim in this case is the martyr [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”

On the other hand, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said those who oppose the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are creating a false choice between achieving stability and justice, calling on Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government to uphold Lebanon’s international obligations.

“Those who oppose the Special Tribunal seek to create a false choice between justice and stability. Lebanon, like any country, needs and deserves both,” Clinton said in a statement published by the U.S. State Department.

A three-member STL delegation Thursday handed over the indictment in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 indicting four Lebanese, at least two of whom are believed to be Hezbollah members.

Clinton also called on Mikati’s Cabinet to uphold Lebanon’s international commitments, saying: “We call on the government of Lebanon to continue to meet its obligations under international law to support the Special Tribunal.”

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1757 established the STL in 2007, with Lebanon financing 51 percent of the expenses. The STL includes Lebanese and international judges.

Clinton described the delivery of the indictment as an important milestone toward justice and an end to a period of impunity for political violence in Lebanon.

“The Special Tribunal is an independent judicial entity … it represents a chance for Lebanon to move beyond its long history of political violence and to achieve the future of peace and stability that the Lebanese people deserve,” Clinton said.

“We understand that this is an emotional and significant period for all involved, and we call on all parties to promote calm and continue to respect the Special Tribunal as it carries out its duties in a professional and apolitical manner,” she added.

The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, which holds the majority in Mikati’s Cabinet, has called on the Lebanese government to withdraw its judges and cut off funding of the court which it has described as an American-Israel tool.

When a Future bloc MP was told that a rival lawmaker had described him as a “dog,” he responded by saying to the MP “you are the dog,” sparking the first of several skirmishes during debates on the policy statement of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government.

An angry face-to-face exchange took place Wednesday between Akkar MP Khaled Daher from the Future Bloc and his rival colleague Assem Qanso, a member of the Baath Party in Lebanon and an MP from Baalbek-Hermel. The scuffle occurred during the second day of parliamentary debate over Cabinet’s policy statement.

Touching on the situation in Syria during his speech, Daher was interrupted by Qanso.

Speaker Nabih Berri, however, stepped in asking Qanso to let Daher finish his speech.

After returning to his seat, Daher was told by a fellow MP that Qanso had described him as a “dog.”

“Who’s that dog that is speaking?” Qanso reportedly said of Daher.

“You are the dog,” Daher hit back at Qanso after taking his seat, drawing ire from the Baalbek-Hermel MP.

Qanso rose from his chair in an attempt to go after Daher, only to be stopped by fellow legislators.

Berri intervened again, asking Daher to calm down. “May God forgive or not forgive the person who relayed this comment to you,” Berri told Daher.

Another fierce argument broke out between Future bloc MP Nuhad Mashnouq who indirectly lashed out at Hezbollah, and the party’s lawmaker Nawwaf Musawi. “You are known to be an agent for foreign intelligence and your price is well known,” Musawi hit back, adding that Mashnouq’s remarks incited civil strife.

Also, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil interrupted Mashnouq, who said Cabinet was formed under the pressure of Hezbollah’s arms. “This remark is unacceptable, I reached my post thanks to the will of people,” Khalil said.

A few minutes later, Hezbollah MPs left the Parliament hall briefly, after which Sidon MP and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora tried to pacify Musawi, as he affectionately pinched his cheek and adjusted his colleague’s jacket, as they chatted.

An argument broke out at a later stage between Metn MP Sami Gemayel, a Kataeb (Phalange) Party official and Ibrahim Kanaan, another lawmaker for the same constituency, when the latter said that some people were exploiting the blood of martyrs in political campaigns.

“Am I exploiting the blood of my brother?” Gemayel asked Kanaan in reference to former Minister Pierre Gemayel who was killed in November 2006. But Kanaan said his remarks did not target Gemayel personally.

Berri, who stepped in repeatedly to restore calm, warned against plans to heat up Parliament’s atmosphere in a bid to create tension in the country, vowing that “I will not allow this to happen.”

The speaker resorted to his well-known sense of humor to deflate the sometimes-tense proceedings during the long day in Nijmeh Square.

When Metn MP Nabil Nicolas said he would give the Cabinet a vote of confidence at the beginning of his speech, Berri said jokingly: “There is no need to continue [your speech].”

Berri also showed firmness in managing the session, saying he would cross out the name of any MP who did not show up on time to deliver his speech.

The atmosphere was friendlier outside the Parliament hall, however, with Future bloc member and Beirut MP Ghazi Youssef looking for a lawmaker to join him for a coffee break at the nearby Starbucks café.

“Would you like to join me for an imperialist coffee?” Youssef joked to Zghorta MP Estephan Doueihi, who accepted the offer after finishing a mobile conversation in the shade near the clock tower at Nijmeh Square.

During a stroll outside Parliament, Youssef told The Daily Star he did not feel bored attending the sessions to discuss the policy statement. “We miss these sessions,” he said. Parliament was closed as Lebanon plunged into around five months of political stalemate with the collapse of the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Jan.12 in a long-simmering dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Asked to comment on the decision of Hezbollah’s lawmakers to turn a “deaf ear” to remarks made by the March 14 coalition against the Cabinet, Youssef said that “ no one will care [about what we are saying] now [in Parliament], the Cabinet will receive a vote of confidence.”

But Youssef voiced skepticism about Cabinet’s ability to function.

Social issues were the main topic of discussion during the short break over coffee between Youssef and Doueihi, a member of Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s parliamentary bloc.

Asked why Franjieh had yet to make an appearance at Nijmeh Square, Doueihi said the Marada Movement leader would attend Thursday’s final session, when the Cabinet is scheduled to face a vote of confidence.

Inside Parliament, March 14 lawmakers lashed out at the Cabinet, urging Mikati to step down.

Listening attentively, Mikati jotted down notes every now and then, while sniffing a gardenia he brought with him.

As addresses began to pile up, Beirut MP Nabil De Freige was spotted tapping away on his mobile.

Surprisingly, Batroun MP Antoine Zahra joined reporters in the upper balcony designated for the press.

“I came to check the view from above,” he told The Daily Star, as he cracked jokes with other reporters.

“I am not here to discuss the policy statement of the Cabinet, but that of [Hezbollah Secretary General] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and [Free Patriotic Movement leader] Michel Aoun,” Zahra added sarcastically.

“This Cabinet will collapse within a maximum of three months,” he added.