Nas­ral­lah’s Syria pitch draws fire

Co­or­di­na­tion with regime would be de­stri­men­tal, stop U.S. aid to Army: politi­cians

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: Hezbol­lah leader Sayyed Hasan Nas­ral­lah’s call for co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Le­banese and Syr­ian armies came un­der fresh fire Fri­day from Le­banese politi­cians who warned of neg­a­tive con­se­quences of such a move, in­clud­ing the risk of stop­ping Western aid to the Army.

Also, Nas­ral­lah’s call in a tele­vised speech Thurs­day night for adding the Syr­ian army to Hezbol­lah’s al­ready dis­puted tri­par­tite equa­tion “The Army, the peo­ple and the re­sis­tance” drew a fiery re­buke amid long-stand­ing op­po­si­tion to this equa­tion from the Fu­ture Move­ment and its Chris­tian al­lies.

La­bor Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Kab­bara, who be­longs to the Fu­ture bloc, took to Twit­ter to lash out at Nas­ral­lah’s call for adding the Syr­ian army to the tri­par­tite equa­tion. “How strange is Nas­ral­lah? His dreams bring him back to As­sad’s quadri­par­tite [equa­tion], which we buried 12 years ago, while the tri­par­tite equa­tion is col­laps­ing un­der the feet of our na­tional Army on the out­skirts [of Ras Baal­beck and AlQaa],” he wrote.

Le­banese Forces chief Samir Geagea ac­cused Nas­ral­lah of caus­ing harm to the Le­banese Army by claim­ing the mil­i­tary was co­or­di­nat­ing with the Syr­ian army and Hezbol­lah in the week­long “Fajr al-Joroud” of­fen­sive launched by the Le­banese Army last Satur­day to ex­pel Daesh (ISIS) mil­i­tants from the north­east­ern towns of Ras Baal­beck and Al-Qaa.

“Why do you in­sist Sayyed Hasan, even if it was true, and it’s not, with re­gard to the Fajr alJoroud op­er­a­tion, to cause dam­age and harm to the Le­banese Army by as­sert­ing that there is co­or­di­na­tion in this bat­tle be­tween the Le­banese Army, Hezbol­lah and the Syr­ian army at a time you fully know that such as­ser­tions would harm the [Le­banese] Army, in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally, whereby sev­eral coun­tries that are help­ing the Army in var­i­ous ways will stop their aid if it [Army] was found to be co­or­di­nat­ing with Hezbol­lah and the Syr­ian army?” Geagea said in an in­ter­view with the Cen­tral News Agency.

The United States, which brands Hezbol­lah a “ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion,” along with other Western states are sup­ply­ing the Le­banese Army with weapons to help it in the war against ter­ror­ism. The U.S. was re­ported to have warned against co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Le­banese Army and each of Hezbol­lah and the Syr­ian army in the cur­rent fight against Daesh on Le­banon’s north­east­ern bor­der re­gion.

Se­nior Le­banese Army of­fi­cers have re­peat­edly said that there is no co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Army and Hezbol­lah and the Syr­ian army while Le­banese troops pre­pare for the fi­nal phase in the of­fen­sive to cap­ture the re­main­ing 20 square kilo­me­ters con­trolled by Daesh on the out­skirts of Ras Baal­beck.

In par­al­lel with the Army’s of­fen­sive against Daesh, the Syr­ian army and Hezbol­lah are fight­ing Daesh on Syria’s western Qalam­oun re­gion on the Syr­ian side of the bor­der.

Geagea, who strongly op­poses Hezbol­lah’s equa­tion, re­newed his call for re­plac­ing it with the “Army, state and peo­ple” equa­tion.

“Thank you Sayyed Hasan be­cause you dis­played to us this time an es­sen­tial part of the ac­tual equa­tion: ‘Army, peo­ple, re­sis­tance and a Syr­ian army.’ But the real equa­tion that you have in­tended all the time is “an army, peo­ple, re­sis­tance, a Syr­ian army, an Iraqi pop­u­lar mo­bi­liza­tion and an Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard,” Geagea said.

Declar­ing that Hezbol­lah’s “The Army, the peo­ple and the re­sis­tance” equa­tion was the tip of the ice­berg,

Geagea said: “How can you Sayyed Hasan as­sume that it is pos­si­ble for us to ac­cept an equa­tion that has noth­ing to do with the coun­try? What will hap­pen to Le­banon as an en­tity, Le­banon as a state, Le­banon as a na­tional pact, Le­banon as [a coun­try of] co­ex­is­tence, Le­banon as [a coun­try of] myth and Le­banon as a model [coun­try]?”

“For us, the core equa­tion is and will re­main ‘Le­banese peo­ple, a Le­banese state and a Le­banese Army,” the LF chief added.

Geagea also ac­cused Nas­ral­lah of us­ing the plight of nine Le­banese sol­diers held hostage by Daesh since 2014 to ex­ert pres­sure on the Le­banese gov­ern­ment to en­ter into direct ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment. He said there would be no co­or­di­na­tion with the Syr­ian regime, which he de­scribed as more bru­tal than Daesh.

“The last thing I could imag­ine is for Sayyed Hasan to use the card of the kid­napped Le­banese sol­diers as a tool of pres­sure the Le­banese gov­ern­ment to hold of­fi­cial talks on the ta­ble with the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, when there is no re­la­tion at all be­tween this na­tional case and any ne­go­ti­a­tions that might be held with the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment,” Geagea said.

Nas­ral­lah said in his speech that Hezbol­lah was ne­go­ti­at­ing with Daesh with­out any co­or­di­na­tion with the Le­banese gov­ern­ment to reach a deal on the with­drawal of its gun­men from the Syr­ian side of the bor­der. He stressed that the lead­er­ship of the re­sis­tance and Syria in­sisted that any deal with Daesh was con­tin­gent on re­veal­ing the fate of the nine Le­banese sol­diers, kid­napped in 2014 when Daesh briefly over­ran the north­east­ern town of Ar­sal.

Nas­ral­lah said that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment was keen on fa­cil­i­tat­ing any agree­ment that would re­veal the fate of the kid­napped sol­diers. How­ever, he added that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment would only pro­vide assistance on the con­di­tion that a for­mal re­quest was sent from the Le­banese gov­ern­ment to the Syr­ian side.

Geagea also re­jected any at­tempts by Nas­ral­lah and Syria to ini­ti­ate of­fi­cial con­tacts be­tween Le­banon and Syria.

“Con­cern­ing the Syr­ian lead­er­ship’s pre­con­di­tion to hold ne­go­ti­a­tions with Daesh is to ob­tain a for­mal Le­banese re­quest and of­fi­cial co­or­di­na­tion with Da­m­as­cus, nei­ther on this oc­ca­sion, nor on an­other shall we con­duct co­or­di­na­tion with a regime, the least that can be said about it, is that it is more bru­tal than Daesh,” Geagea said.

LBCI chan­nel quoted gov­ern­ment sources as say­ing that the is­sue of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment over the kid­napped sol­diers is “en­tirely re­jected and is out of the ques­tion.”

In a quick re­sponse to Nas­ral­lah’s speech, the Fu­ture Move­ment is­sued a state­ment late Thurs­day night in which it blasted his talk about the kid­napped sol­diers, say­ing the Hezbol­lah chief was try­ing to black­mail the Le­banese gov­ern­ment through this is­sue to get it to co­or­di­nate with the Syr­ian regime.

The Fu­ture Move­ment state­ment said that by adding the Syr­ian army to the tri­par­tite equa­tion, Nas­ral­lah has “un­der­mined what he called the golden or di­a­mond equa­tion from its foun­da­tions.”

Com­ment­ing on Nas­ral­lah’s speech, Fu­ture MP Mo­ham­mad Ha­j­jar said in a state­ment: “It is clear that Hezbol­lah is today liv­ing in a state of anx­i­ety as a re­sult of the vic­to­ries achieved by the Le­banese Army in its war against ter­ror­ism on the bor­der.”

“The Army has proved that it can con­front ter­ror­ism and pro­tect the coun­try and cit­i­zens alone with­out any co­or­di­na­tion with any one,” he said.

Ha­j­jar ac­cused Hezbol­lah of us­ing the Le­banese arena to “serve the Syr­ian regime and the Ira­nian project in the re­gion.” He said Hezbol­lah’s arms would re­main “il­le­git­i­mate as long as they do not fall un­der the author­ity and de­ci­sion of the Le­banese state and its con­sti­tu­tional in­sti­tu­tions.”

Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun kicks off the first stage in the de­vel­op­ment of a road in Ba­troun honor­ing saints.

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