2019
01/13

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Concerns mount over Lebanese tensions

Lebanon braced Friday for a fresh political crisis after Hezbollah urged a boycott of a UN-backed tribunal on the murder of Rafiq Hariri and the United Nations warned of a “hyper-dangerous” situation.

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Leader of the militant Shiite movement Hassan Nasrallah late Thursday called on all Lebanese to end cooperation with investigators probing the ex-premier’s 2005 assassination, warning further collaboration was equivalent to an attack on his party.

His call sets him at odds with Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a son of the slain former premier, who has vowed to see the investigation through.

Nasrallah had previously said he expected his Iranian- and Syrian-backed movement to face an accusation by the international court and warned that such eventuality would result in repercussions, which he did not specify.

The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), tasked with investigating the Beirut bombing which killed Hariri and 22 others, quickly condemned Nasrallah’s call as a “deliberate attempt to obstruct justice”.

UN warns of Lebanon situation

The Shiite leader’s words also came hours after the United Nations warned Lebanon had entered a “hyper-dangerous” state.

“Lebanon is more conflicted every day we see now. And we know that in Lebanon we have militias which are very heavily armed and increasingly so and this creates a hyper-dangerous situation,” Terje Roed-Larsen, the special envoy for Lebanon, told reporters in New York after a Security Council briefing.

In Lebanon, Nasrallah’s call for boycott sparked the ire of Hariri’s pro-Western allies in the parliamentary majority, but the prime minister himself has not immediately reacted.

MP Ahmed Fatfat of the Saudi-backed Hariri bloc said Nasrallah’s statement amounted to a call to “revolt against the international community.”

“Accepting this request pits the Lebanese government against the international community,” Fatfat told local radio.

“In Lebanon, there is always the possibility of finding agreement, but there will be no bargaining over the tribunal.”

Emergency meeting called for

Christian leader Samir Geagea, whose Lebanese Forces are a key ally for Hariri, called on the president and prime minister to schedule an emergency meeting on the issue.

“This is a threat to the Lebanese government as it is the first to cooperate with the investigators through its memorandum of understanding with the Security Council,” Geagea told satellite channel Al-Arabiya.

“Cooperation with the tribunal is also at the heart of the current cabinet’s policy statement,” he added. “We denounce this surprising, incomprehensible position.”

Tensions had already been building in the turbulent Mediterranean country amid reports that the STL would point to Hezbollah in the Hariri murder.

Thursday’s speech also sparked fears of a repeat of a political crisis that paralysed the government between November 2006 and May 2008, culminating in inter-sectarian gun battles that brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Nasrallah’s latest comments came one day after angry women attacked two STL investigators at a gynaecology clinic in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburb of Beirut, wrangling a briefcase from the pair.

“We have reached a very dangerous point where our honour has been breached,” he warned, charging that the probe was passing on information to his arch-foe Israel.

“I call on all Lebanese, citizens… and politicians alike, to boycott the investigators of this tribunal and end all cooperation with them,” he said.

“Any further cooperation with these investigators is equal to an attack on the resistance.

“We now have reached a point where we can no longer keep silent for anyone’s sake.”

Iran’s interest considered

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, earlier this month said he expected tensions between Hezbollah and Hariri to spiral after the visit of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Lebanon on October 13 and 14.

“The war of words will continue and then be replaced by a paralysis of the government and institutions,” Salem told AFP.

“Finally we could see street demonstrations and road blocks coming up as was the case in the past.”

But Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, downplayed the likelihood of violence in the immediate future.

“This is an expected escalation, but I don’t think another May 2008 is on the horizon yet,” Safa told AFP Friday.

“There seems to be regional and international agreement to keep Lebanon calm for now, now which Saudi Arabia and Syria abide by, and I don’t think Hezbollah is going to breach that.

“The escalation is going way beyond accepted… and is in contravention to international law, but I don’t think things will descend into war.”

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