x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Hizbollah a threat to Lebanon's Syria 'disassociation' policy, says Mikati

Exclusive Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati warns Hizbollah involvement in Syria civil war increases danger of fighting to spill over the border.

Mohammad Awad's home in Hermel in north-east Lebanon was damaged by a rocket fired from Syria on Wednesday that also killed his sister. Hussein Malla / AP Photo
Mohammad Awad's home in Hermel in north-east Lebanon was damaged by a rocket fired from Syria on Wednesday that also killed his sister. Hussein Malla / AP Photo
BEIRUT // Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati warned yesterday that his country's policy of "disassociation" from Syria's civil war was under threat because of Hizbollah's growing role in the conflict.

Speaking at the Grand Serail, the headquarters of the prime minister in Beirut, Mr Mikati told The National that the fighting in Syria was increasingly in danger of spilling over the border.

Mr Mikati resigned from his post in March after a cabinet dispute with Hizbollah, the powerful Shiite political and militant group, over the failure to ratify a new parliamentary elections law and refusal to extend the term of a senior Sunni security official. Mr Mikati agreed to stay on as caretaker prime minister until Tamam Salam, a former minister of culture, can form a new government.

"Unfortunately, after my resignation, things haven't gone very well," he said. "The policy of disassociation is under threat, but I still believe the situation requires this policy, especially with such delicate issues as the Syrian war."

Hizbollah is an ally of Syria's president Bashar Al Assad and its militants are fighting alongside Syrian regime forces in the battle for Qusayr in Syria.

Syria's predominately Sunni rebels have vowed to attack Hizbollah strongholds in Lebanese territory in response, while the opposition Syrian National Coalition announced on Thursday it would not take part in a mooted Geneva peace conference this month unless Hizbollah fighters withdrew from Syria.

Mr Mikati's spoke just hours before parliament voted to extend its term by 17 months because of the country's precarious security situation.

The National News Agency said yesterday that parliament had postponed elections from June this year until November 2014.

Dozens of people have been killed in Lebanon over the past two years in clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian Lebanese groups.

The sectarian tension has been compounded by a speech last Saturday by Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in which he announced that his group would escalate its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

"I say to all the honourable people, to the mujahideen, to the heroes: I have always promised you a victory and now I pledge to you a new one" in Syria, he said, arguing that backing Mr Al Assad was crucial to protect Lebanon from a rising tide of ultraconservative Islamists and a western conspiracy to weaken the "resistance" against Israel.

Thousands of Hizbollah fighters have joined with Syrian army troops in an assault on the city of Qusayr, a strategic city across the border from Lebanon.

Since the speech, there have been rocket attacks on the Hizbollah neighbourhood of Chiyah in southern Beirut and the assassination of two Lebanese soldiers near the border by masked gunmen.

Mr Mikati said that he no longer had the "tools" to enforce the country's foreign policy after his resignation, but was calling on Lebanon to form a government "as soon as possible so the government can take full responsibility and refresh the policy".

Mr Mikati said he was, for now, concentrating on a new National Dialogue initiative to convince political factions to compromise for the sake of the country's security.

"I launched this on the basis of you give, I give," he said. "The problem we have had is that every time we sit at the table nobody will move from their position. The question now is what can you give for the sake of the nation.

"So far, we have been able to contain the security situation, but I don't know what will be the implications of what is happening now," he said.

bhope@thenational.ae