Lebanese PM Mikati discusses regional developments with ambassadors of Arab nations

Mikati: People’s unity, nation’s security are red lines

Future Movement bloc denies involvement in Tripoli clashes, demands Tripoli be free from weapons

Siniora renews rejection against spread of illegal arms

Future bloc slams Aoun over his campaign against Saad Hariri

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday that security forces are responsible for maintaining security fairly across Lebanon.

“I would like to stress that the role of security forces is the same across the entire [Lebanese] regions – to maintain security without discrimination,” Mikati said during what was dubbed a “security-ministerial” meeting at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.

“I would also like to stress that dealing with security incidents, should they take place God forbid, must be done with utmost national responsibility,” he added.

“There is no difference between pro- and anti-government supporters when it comes to the public safety,” Mikati added. “They’re all Lebanese and it is the duty of the state to protect them and provide stability for them.”

Mikati chaired a meeting that was attended by Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, in addition to Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, general director of State security Maj. Gen. George Qaraa, Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji, Security General acting general director Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar, Higher Defense Council general director Maj. Gen. Adnan Merheb and president of the Supreme Relief committee Maj. Gen. Yehya Raad.

Talks focused on the situation in Lebanon in general, particularly in Tripoli following the bloody weekend armed clashes.

At least seven people were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes between gunmen of rival groups in Mikati’s home city of Tripoli Friday, putting his government with its first security challenge.

Gunmen from the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district exchanged machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades with gunmen from the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood shortly after supporters of anti-regime protests in Syria staged a demonstration in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

The two districts often clash, but Friday’s incident came amid heightened tension over the widening popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Jabal Mohsen is the stronghold of the pro-Syria Arab Democratic Party led by Ali Eid.

The Lebanese Army, which confirmed the death of a soldier and the wounding of two others, has restored calm to Tripoli after heavily deploying troops around the two neighborhoods.

Mikati met Monday with Arab and foreign ambassadors at the Grand Serail to brief them on the circumstances that led to the formation of his Cabinet and on his government’s policy on U.N. resolutions while affirming Lebanon’s respect of these resolutions, including the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Mikati met separately with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly in her first meeting with the prime minister since he unveiled a 30-member Cabinet on June 13. Reporters based at the Grand Serail said the meeting was tense, with Mikati looking very serious.

Contrary to custom, Connelly only said there would be no statement this time from the U.S. Embassy about her talks with Mikati. The embassy had issued statements about Connelly’s previous meetings with Mikati in the past four months when he was working on the Cabinet’s formation.

The statements were similar in content with one clear message: “The United States reiterated that the international community would assess its relationship with the new government based on its makeup, policy statement and the actions it takes concerning Lebanon’s international obligations, including the STL,” which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The U.S. has not yet commented on Mikati’s Cabinet, which is dominated by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies. Connelly’s tense meeting with Mikati most probably reflected Washington’s resentment of the Cabinet lineup which totally excluded the March 14 parties who have decided to boycott Mikati.

Diplomatic sources said Connelly might have linked U.S. cooperation with Lebanon to the contents of the government’s policy statement, while stressing her country’s keenness that Lebanon respect all U.N. resolutions and tackle the issue of illegitimate arms – a reference to Hezbollah’s weapons.

During his meeting with the Arab ambassadors, Mikati stressed Lebanon’s respect of U.N. resolutions, including the one relating to the STL, while taking into account the “the Lebanese security characteristics,” as an Arab ambassador put it.

A ministerial source said that if the STL’s decisions would threaten national peace in Lebanon, the Lebanese government could not agree to them.

The STL’s indictment is widely expected to implicate some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s assassination, raising fears of sectarian strife. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied involvement.

Addressing the Arab ambassadors, Mikati said: “Lebanon must always maintain the best relations with all sisterly and friendly states. I will try to apply this matter while I am in office.”

Referring to the STL and U.N. resolutions, he said, “I have repeatedly said that Lebanon is one of the founders of the U.N. Organization and it respects its resolutions, particularly Resolution 1701.” Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. Regarding the STL, Mikati said he was confident that all Lebanese political groups and parties wanted to achieve right and justice in Hariri’s assassination and “spare Lebanon any security risks that threaten its stability.”

Earlier Monday, Mikati chaired a security meeting at the Grand Serail to discuss measures taken by the Lebanese Army and security forces to restore calm to Tripoli after last week’s clashes between rival factions which left seven people dead and over 20 wounded. The meeting was attended by the interior and defense ministers, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji and senior military and police officers.

Mikati said security forces are responsible for maintaining security fairly across Lebanon. “I would like to stress that the role of security forces is the same across all [Lebanese] regions – to maintain security without discrimination,” he added.

“There is no difference between pro- and anti-government supporters when it comes to the public safety,” Mikati added.

Mikati’s meetings with the ambassadors came on the eve of a second meeting of a ministerial committee formed to draft the government’s policy statement on the basis of which the Cabinet will seek Parliament’s vote of confidence During last week’s meeting, the committee, headed by Mikati, drew up the outlines of the policy statement, which is expected to outline the government’s position on thorny issues such as Hezbollah’s arms and the STL.

Meanwhile, some March 14 lawmakers and politicians have met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris over the past 48 hours to discuss the opposition’s plans against the Mikati government, a political source said.

Future bloc MPs renewed their call Monday for an arms-free Tripoli following last Friday’s clashes between gunmen from the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district and those from the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood.

Fifteen MPs, mainly from northern Lebanon, met at ex-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s office to discuss ways to prevent renewed fighting. The meeting was also attended by Tripoli Mufti Malek al-Shaar who called in a statement for a demilitarized Tripoli as a first step toward collecting arms from all of Lebanon.

Hariri’s Future bloc called Sunday for Tripoli to be declared an arms-free city as a war of words erupted between Mikati and the March 14-led opposition.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea joined the Future bloc in calling for Tripoli to be declared a demilitarized city.

“Tripoli should be arms-free, especially since all the main and other parties are demanding this radical solution. Tripoli is not a border city but an internal city. Why is this quantity of arms in it?” he said.

Apparently responding to Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai who voiced support for the government and said it should be given a chance, Geagea said, “Those who call on us to give the government a chance to work we say the Cabinet’s setup indicates its course and the extent of its productivity … This government poses a real danger to Lebanon.”

The parliamentary Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has called for Tripoli to be declared an arms-free city as a war of words raged between Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the March 14-led opposition following last week’s clashes in the northern city.

The exchange of virulent rhetoric underlined the deep political schism that has taken root between the March 8 and March 14 camps since Hariri’s Cabinet was toppled on Jan. 12 following the resignation of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies in a long-running feud over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

At least seven people were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes between gunmen of rival groups in Mikati’s home city of Tripoli Friday, presenting his government with its first security challenge.

Gunmen from the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district exchanged machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades with gunmen from the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood shortly after supporters of anti-regime protests in Syria staged a demonstration in Bab al-Tabbaneh. The two districts often clash, but Friday’s incident came amid heightened tension over the widening popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Jabal Mohsen is the stronghold of the pro-Syria Arab Democratic Party led by Ali Eid.

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said the Tripoli clashes were an attempt to plunge Lebanon into renewed sectarian strife.

The Lebanese Army, which confirmed the death of a soldier and the wounding of two others, has restored calm to Tripoli after heavily deploying troops around the two neighborhoods.

Soldiers mounted patrols and set up checkpoints to prevent cease-fire violations and a renewal of hostilities. An Inerga shell landed in Qobbeh near Bab al-Tabbaneh Sunday night, causing no injuries or damage.

“The Army Command confirms that the blood of the victims who fell will not go unpunished. It will not show leniency toward those who tampered with security, caused the civilian and military victims and inflicted material damage to public and private properties,” the Army Command said.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future bloc, deplored the Tripoli clashes, saying they were exploited “to serve political interests at the expense of the citizens’ security and stability and at the expense of the security of Tripoli and the northern region in general.”

He reiterated the Future bloc’s position which strongly opposed the proliferation of arms among the people and in residential areas. He renewed calls to declare Tripoli a demilitarized zone.

“Those who carry arms and use them in the interior serve only strife and bloodshed and spread chaos. The Lebanese Army, the Lebanese security forces and the Lebanese judiciary must confront this with firmness and determination,” Siniora said in a speech at a Future rally in the southern port city of Sidon Saturday night.

Addressing Mikati, Siniora said: “Let Tripoli be declared an arms-free city and let this [measure] be enforced immediately and every gunman be chased with the severest punitive measures. We will be wholeheartedly standing by the side of the government and official agencies if the prime minister and the government take this measure. Your Excellency the prime minister, strife is dormant. May God curse those who awaken it.” Interior Minister Marwan Charbel promised to consider the demand for a demilitarized Tripoli. “All are demanding that Tripoli be declared an arms-free city. We will respond favorably to Tripoli’s residents of various sects and affiliations who are demanding this matter,” Charbel said.

A similar call for declaring Tripoli an arms-free city was issued by Future MPs in northern Lebanon. The MPs rejected what they called Mikati’s “veiled accusation” that the opposition was to blame for the Tripoli clashes.

Fourteen Future MPs attended a news conference at lawmaker Samir al-Jisr’s office in Tripoli Saturday to respond to Mikati’s accusation.

Speaking at the conference, Jisr said: “What happened in Tripoli was extremely regrettable and sad … But adding to our sadness is to find Prime Minister Mikati, in his first appearance in Tripoli after forming the government, instead of shouldering responsibility and warding off strife, accusing the opposition in an ambiguous manner when he said: ‘We understand that the opposition is peaceful. We understand that the opposition is constructive. This is what they said they would do …’ ”

Jisr recalled the Future bloc’s demand for putting an end to illegitimate arms. Hariri and his March 14 allies have launched scathing campaigns against Hezbollah’s arsenal, accusing the party of using its weapons to achieve political goals. They called on Hezbollah to surrender its weapons to the state.

“We, in the March 14 parties and the Future Movement, in order to topple arms, have demanded that Beirut be declared a weapons-free city. We are today demanding that the city of Tripoli and all its areas and neighborhoods be demilitarized without exception as a prelude to removing any arms outside the security institutions in all Lebanese territories,” Jisr said in a statement on behalf of the 14 MPs.

The statement called on the government to fully shoulder its responsibility in “warding off strife and giving instructions to all security forces to impose security firmly and justly.”

Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi accused the March 14 parties of exercising “inappropriate” opposition. “In all the positions they adopted, the March 14 parties have affirmed that they will be a constructive opposition. But we do not consider what we heard as constructive opposition.

Rather, it is an appropriate behavior by these parties,” Safadi said in a statement after meeting Mikati at the Grand Serail Saturday.

A leading opposition figure on Sunday urged Lebanon's new government to ban weapons from the northern city of Tripoli, after weekend clashes over an anti-Syria rally left seven dead.

MP Fouad Siniora, a leading figure of the US and Saudi-backed opposition and a former prime minister, also warned that "unrest is dormant" in the Sunni Muslim city, which also houses a minority Alawite community.

"Tripoli must become a city that is free of all arms, and that must be implemented immediately," Siniora told reporters. Headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon's opposition has refused to join the country's new government, which was announced Monday after a five-month vacuum, on grounds it is "Hezbollah's cabinet."

The appointment in January of Najib Mikati to premiership, a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim in multi-confessional Lebanon, with the blessing of Shiite militant Hezbollah sparked the ire of Hariri's supporters.

But Siniora on Sunday said he and his allies would support Mikati in making sure the streets of Tripoli were free of arms. "We will stand by the government ... should they work for that end," he said. "The army and security forces must deal with all attempts to incite unrest firmly."

A soldier and a 14-year-old boy were among those killed this weekend in clashes in Tripoli between Alawites and Sunnis.

Twenty-five people were also wounded in the fighting which erupted hours after some 600 demonstrators gathered for a protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite.

After five months of political wrangling, Mikati announced the formation of a government on Monday in which Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies control 18 out of 30 cabinet seats.

Siniora blasted Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun Sunday, describing him as “delusional” after the former general claimed to have definitively ended the political career of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Aoun said Saturday that Hariri has been issued a “one-way ticket out of Lebanon and the government,” adding that the Future Movement leader’s “era of paralyzing state institutions in a bid to control the country” was over.

Speaking in Sidon, Siniora said Aoun was delusional to believe he could end Hariri’s political career because it would imply the marginalization of millions of Lebanese.

“I don’t know if he [Aoun] made his remarks because he owns a travel agency or because he wants to encourage Prime Minister [Najib Mikati] to issue such a ticket [for Hariri],” Siniora said in a sarcastic tone.

“I tell those who are delusional, seeking to issue one-way tickets to millions of Lebanese, that it is easier for them to issue their own tickets and leave the country. This way, they can relax and let the Lebanese relax,” Siniora said, before accusing Mikati of targeting Rafik Hariri’s legacy in Lebanon.

“We heard some of them want to eradicate the legacy of martyr [and former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. I would like to ask [Mikati] if he has been assigned the task of removing the legacy to repair what Hariri has [supposedly] ruined for the past 20 years,” he said.

“The March 8 coalition is implementing its coup … proving its intention of seeking unilateral control,” Siniora said in reference to the ousting of Hariri’s government by Hezbollah and its allies, after he refused to stop cooperating with the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating his father’s assassination.

Saad Hariri, who left Lebanon nearly two months ago, has yet to return to Beirut amid reports of a plot to assassinate him.

The French newspaper Liberation reported Friday that Hariri was taking “refuge” in Paris, as the U.S. and Saudi Arabia continued to believe the former prime minister’s life is threatened by the Syrian regime in a plan to divert attention from its domestic problems.

The report said Hariri had arrived in Paris a week ago from Saudi Arabia.

The report added that Syria had an interest in assassinating Hariri to fuel Shiite-Sunni strife in Lebanon to divert the international community’s attention away from the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on protests against President Bashar Assad’s rule.

An earlier report by Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai said the U.S. had uncovered a plot to assassinate Hariri, adding that it had been planned to take place in Beirut in May 2011.

Quoting official U.S. sources, Al-Rai’s Washington correspondent said the U.S. had informed Hariri of the plot after the United States, France and other regional countries followed-up on “surveillance” of Hariri carried out by groups inside Lebanon who had been monitoring Hariri’s activities since August 2010.