Cabinet calls for dialogue to ease tension


Lebanon’s cabinet has urged rival political parties to engage in dialogue amid an escalating war of words between Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s camp and Hezbollah that has raised fears of sectarian violence.

“The cabinet insisted on the need to put an end to the media war, to protect state institutions (…) and to resort to dialogue,” Information Minister Tarek Mitri said after members of the unity government met late Tuesday.

The mudslinging between Hariri’s Western- and Saudi-backed coalition and Hezbollah and its allies is largely related to a a probe by a UN-backed tribunal into the murder of Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a massive seaside bombing in 2005.

The tribunal is reportedly set to implicate Hezbollah in the assassination which, at the time, drew international condemnation and forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon following a 29-year presence.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has said it would not stand idle should any of its members be implicated and has dismissed the tribunal as an Israeli project.

In a show of force at the weekend, the militant party essentially pushed its way into Beirut’s international airport to escort the former head of the country’s security services who is wanted for questioning in relation to recent comments that have further raised tensions.

Brigadier-General Jamil Sayyed, who was held for four years without charge in connection with Hariri’s murder, earlier this month accused Hariri of selling his father’s blood in order to frame Syria for the killing and urged the Lebanese to topple the government.

His comments prompted the country’s top prosecutor to summon him for questioning but Sayyed has challenged the legality of the summons.

Hariri, who is set to address the nation this week, said Tuesday following the cabinet meeting that the mounting political tensions had given Lebanon a bad image and raised fears of civil unrest.

“The country has been drowning in a war of words in recent weeks,” he said. “The Lebanese are deeply anxious and some believe that we are on the edge of a renewed wave of destruction.

“This is not the image we want to portray to the world.”

Hariri’s majority coalition in parliament said that the airport incident involving Hezbollah amounted to an “invasion.”

“What occurred is an attack on the dignity of the state, and in a style suited to an armed gang,” the March 14 alliance said in a statement. AFP