Hezbollah grip on Lebanon must end, says top Christian leader

File photo: Leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces party Dr Samir Geagea

Lebanon’s hijacked sovereignty must be restored after an election denied the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah a parliamentary majority, said top Christian leader Samir Geagea.

“All strategic decision-making should return to the Lebanese state… and security and military matters should be handled exclusively by the Lebanese army,” the head of the Lebanese Forces party which holds the largest parliamentary bloc in the newly elected parliament told AFP.

“No one… should be able to transport missiles from one place to another without the permission and knowledge of the military,” the 69-year-old added, referring to Hezbollah.

Geagea’s campaign for the May 15 election centred mainly on disarming Hezbollah, cementing his role as the movement’s staunchest domestic rival.

The Iran-backed Shiite group, which held a majority in the outgoing parliament together with its allies, is the only militia to have not disarmed after the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

File photo: A parade by the Iranian backed Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia (which is the only militia that was allowed to keep its arms following the end of the civil war ) . It is now the most powerful group in Lebanon and acts as the state above the state

Hezbollah, whose arsenal outguns the army’s, is described by its supporters as a bulwark against enemy Israel, but it is blacklisted as a “terrorist” organization by the US and other Western and Arab countries

Detractors argue it undermines the state’s decisions on security and exposes Lebanon to costly disputes, with Hezbollah deploying combattants and weapons across the region.

“No one should be allowed to use their weapons inside the country,” said Geagea, who rose to prominence as a militia leader during the civil war.

“This is no longer acceptable,” he said during an interview at his residence in Maarab, northeast of Beirut.

Anti-Hezbollah alliance

Lebanon’s latest election yielded a polarised and fractured parliament that denied any single bloc a clear-cut majority.

Geagea’s party, which has strong ties to Saudi Arabia, clinched 19 seats, with an additional spot going to an allied lawmaker who is not a party member.

To challenge Hezbollah, Geagea is counting on alliances with other traditional powers opposed to it, including the Christian Kataeb party, and the Progressive Socialist Party led by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

At least 13 independent lawmakers who emerged from an anti-government protest movement in 2019 could also bolster their ranks, said Geagea.

“We are in intensive talks” with them, he said.

“We agree at a minimum on the need to build an actual Lebanese state… away from corruption, clientelism, quotas, and private interests.”

From Sunday, after the current assembly’s mandate expires, the new lawmakers will have to pick a speaker, a position Nabih Berri has held since 1992.

Berri is expected to hold on to the post with the backing of Hezbollah and his Amal party which, together, account for all Shiite lawmakers.

Several anti Hezbollah Shiite parliamentary candidates pulled out of the race because they were subjected to attacks by Hezbollah and Amal thugs

Geagea called on incoming lawmakers to chart a new political path by selecting a speaker who would work to “preserve” the state’s sovereignty. Earlier this week Geagea said that the Lebanese Forces has specifications for the speaker and Berri does not qualify. He ruled out voting for Berri as a speaker

France 24/ AFP / YL