Saad Hariri rejects during his father’s death anniversary concessions in return for power

Hariri: I believe power is the last thing that deserves to cede anything for

Dar al-Fatwa meeting reviews problems facing Sunnis, supports Special Tribunal for Lebanon

In an emotional speech to thousands of supporters in Beirut, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri issued a direct challenge to the Shiite Hezbollah movement, saying that the Lebanese people can no longer bury their heads in the sand in the face of Hezbollah's weapons.

Hariri was speaking on the sixth anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, who was prime minister for 10 years between 1992 and 2004. At times in tears, he told the rally that his father was killed because "he said 'no' to changing the Arab, democratic, free and sovereign Lebanon."

Saad Hariri was prime minister until last month, but his government was brought down by Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies. He told supporters that his movement is now ready to move into opposition because it values truth and justice over power. Efforts are continuing to form a new government, but Hariri's speech ended speculation that his March 14th block will play any role in it.

Analysts describe the speech as a watershed in Lebanese politics, where there are now two polarized camps with shrinking space for compromise.

Confronting Hezbollah, which is branded as a terrorist organization by the United States, Hariri said the issue of its weapons is not related to the right of the Lebanese people to face Israeli aggression "but to the excessive use" of the weapons "in resolving political differences."

Hezbollah has a well-armed militia and is estimated to have thousands of rockets and missiles targeted at Israel.

"Let me be frank with you on this issue," Hariri said. "We cannot bury our heads in the sand claiming that the weapons issue doesn't exist and that the Lebanese are forbidden to talk about it. The truth is totally otherwise and the experience of the last six years proved that it is a controversial issue among the Lebanese."

Hariri also defended the work of the international tribunal investigating his father's assassination. The tribunal is said to have drawn up indictments against several Hezbollah members, but none has yet been published. Hezbollah describes the tribunal as a tool of the United States and Israel, but Hariri said it is "not American nor French nor Israeli and doesn't target any sect or group. ... We have not and never will be in confrontation with the Shiite community."

It was largely because the tribunal was close to issuing indictments that Hezbollah brought down Hariri's government.

The sixth commemoration of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, held at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure complex in Beirut, has provided the latest fodder for the ongoing war of words between the March 14 and March 8 camps.

Although news reports have indicated that Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt would issue a response to the ceremony held by his former allies, the party’s secretary-general told The Daily Star that the PSP was still evaluating the event.

Sharif Fayyad, the PSP’s secretary-general, told The Daily Star that the party was studying the speeches delivered at BIEL, and especially that of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heralded an era in which his Future bloc and the March 14 camp would enter the opposition. “We have observations about some points, and other points we do not agree on,” Fayyad said. “So far, there is no decision to issue a statement in response.”

The Future Movement bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting that the stances taken represented a “methodological and objective self-re-evaluation of what happened in the previous stage, as well as an anticipation, and a political and strategic orientation toward the future.”

The ceremony saw speeches by Hariri, Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and former Minister Mohammad Abdel-Hamid Beydoun, a former Amal Movement official.

Hariri unleashed the March 14 coalition’s opposition to the government to be formed by Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, stressing his support for the Constitution, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and a commitment “to protect public and private life in Lebanon from the predominance of weapons,” in reference to Hezbollah’s arms.

Beirut MP Jean Hogassapian lashed out at sides criticizing the speeches, labeling them as “experts in the method of disruption and sabotage.”

“I have witnessed the obstacles they placed in the way of the two previous cabinets, which led to additional powerlessness and sometimes state paralysis,” he told Tele-Liban.

Batroun MP Antoine Zahra, a Lebanese Forces official, told Ash-Sharq radio station the BIEL ceremony reflected “a return to the self, to principles, and to supporters, and a getting rid of the burden of participating in government and the period of gray stances” that such participation required.

Also, the March 14 General Secretariat issued a statement after its weekly meeting in which it said it was debating the coalition’s key policies for the coming stage, “in light of the slogans that were announced at the BIEL ceremony.”

“This opposition is based on four major principles: commitment to the Taif Accord … the Special Tribunal for Lebanon … the protection of public and private life from Hezbollah’s arms … and the Arab and international resolutions related to Lebanon,” according to the statement.

Separately, Fares Soueid, the coordinator of the General Secretariat of March 14, said that former Minister Beydoun had provided during his speech an “important approach,” based on the legacy of Imam Musa Sadr, the founder of the Higher Shiite Council, and Imam Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddine, his successor, as opposed to Wilayat al-Faqih, the Khomeini-inspired system of clerical rule in Iran.

In remarks to the Kuwaiti As-Siyasa newspaper, Soueid said that the March 14 General Secretariat had asked Beydoun to deliver a speech due to his “courage” and because he represented an independent Shiite point of view.

For March 8 officials, the event at the BIEL center involved incitement, and a step backward.

Marjayoun Hasbaya MP Qassem Hashem said that the speeches made at the BIEL complex were not new, but a replica of what had been said on Mar. 14, 2005, and that “torpedo the entire stage of positive development” in recent years, after Hariri dropped his accusation of Syria as being behind his father’s murder.

Speaking to Tele-Liban, Hashem said the speeches reflected an attempt to mobilize supporters one month before a rally by March 14 in downtown Beirut, which Hariri called for at the end of his speech.

The Baath Party official blamed Hariri for foiling the Syrian-Saudi initiative to resolve the dispute over the STL, saying: “Hariri is the one who washed his hands of and abandoned the agreement.”

The head of the Popular Nasserite Organization, Osama Saad, said the misleading rhetoric expressed at BIEL “prompted criticism and mockery at the same time,” calling Geagea, Gemayel and Hariri the leaders of a “tripartite alliance.”

Prime Minister-designate Najib Miqati, who is backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 camp, attended together with his Sunni rival Saad Hariri a broad Sunni meeting at Dar al-Fatwa in Beirut.

The meeting at 12:30pm was called to order by Lebanon's Grand Sunni Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani. It was attended by former premier Fouad Seniora, the country's Sunni MPs and the Council of Muslim Muftis.

According to a statement issued after the meeting, the conferees voiced concerns over the issue of employing weapons to "intimidate" others and achieve political gains.

They also voiced concerns over the issue of "disregarding the results of the 2005 and 2009 national democratic elections."

The conferees condemned "insistence on disrespecting consensual decisions reached at the national dialogue table and insistence on obstructing justice and neglecting the blood of the martyrs."

"The Lebanese adhere to the reconciled relations with the international community," said the statement.

"The Lebanese have adhered to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a guarantee to justice and stability," it stressed.

The Sunni leaders warned that "the sense of injustice or exclusion of any group at the national level creates a sectarian conflict within the (Lebanese) community."

"We want to ensure the protection of the public system on the basis of the national accord," they noted. "All the Lebanese people want to establish a state through a democratic system which guarantees diversity and does not exclude any sect."

Qabbani, in remarks published this week by An-Nahar daily, said the statement to be issued at the end of the meeting would be based on the atmosphere of talks during the meeting.

He confirmed that both Miqati and Hariri would attend the meeting.

Miqati, however, said he was in touch with Qabbani all day in hopes to reach common ground.

"I hope we could reach common ground to allow me to attend the (Dar al-Fatwa) meeting," Miqati told Al-Hayat newspaper.

"Otherwise, I prefer not to participate if I felt there were gaps, because what I hope for is to bridge this gap and not deepen differences," he added.

After the meeting, Hariri threw a lunch banquet at the Center House in honor of the participants.

The lunch was attended by Seniora, Qabbani, the muftis of the regions and a number of MPs and members of the Islamic Council.

Miqati also visited the Center House and held a brief meeting with Hariri, in the presence of MPs Mohammed Safadi and Ahmed Karami.

The three "then left as Miqati had a previously scheduled meeting at his residence," according to Hariri's press office.