x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Politician lashes out at Hizbollah leadership

Christian group fears some of its members could be indicted by an international tribunal investigating the assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

BEIRUT // A prominent Christian political leader has accused Hizbollah's leadership of intentionally destabilising Lebanon because the group fears some of its members could be indicted by an international tribunal investigating the assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, lashed out at Hassan Nasrallah in a television interview on Tuesday after the Hizbollah chief recently warned that internal strife could develop in the country over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the 2005 car bomb that killed Hariri, and a series of arrests of telecommunications executives accused of spying for Israel.

The tribunal could present some findings in September, according to unverified media reports, and rumours have spread that Hizbollah members could be among those indicted. "If Hizbollah is confident of its innocence, then why it is afraid and so nervous about the indictment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon?" Mr Geagea asked in an interview on the local channel MTV. "Nasrallah is speaking as if he is the 'Supreme Leader', as the powers of the Supreme Leader [of Iran] include the ratification and timing of presidential elections, sacking the government, dropping or softening of judicial verdicts, and the command of all armed forces," Mr Geagea said.

He warned that he has "the impression that the country may again witness political assassinations", a reference to a wave of killings that targeted opponents of both Syria and supporters of the tribunal from 2005 to 2008. Mr Geagea's comments have escalated a developing political crisis in Lebanon over the possibility the tribunal will accuse Hizbollah members in the Hariri plot, and Hizbollah's warnings that more than two years of political peace might be at risk.

Several hours after Mr Geagea gave the interview, a Lebanese Forces office in the predominantly Christian neighbourhood of Ashrafiya was burned down. Internal Security Forces officials confirmed that the attack was arson but did not elaborate about any potential suspects. Adding to the dangerous mix of rhetorical and physical fire, the former general Michel Aoun, a key Christian rival of Mr Geagea now aligned politically with Hizbollah, admitted he warned Mr Nasrallah that the Christian community may become more involved in the sectarian strife.

Mr Aoun belligerently admitted on Tuesday that he had advised Mr Nasrallah to "change the rules of the game" with regards to the current political climate. The statement was widely seen as an overt threat both against Lebanese Christian parties who have remained vocal opponents of Hizbollah and its allies and against the Lebanese government in general if it agrees to co-operate with the tribunal if Hizbollah members are accused in Hariri's death.

Mr Geagea's comments about Mr Nasrallah seemed to infuriate many Shiite in Beirut's southern suburbs, where the Hizbollah leader is widely beloved. One Hizbollah member argued that Mr Geagea was merely looking for attention. "He has no power to change anything ... especially the 'resistance'," said Abu Mahmoud, 41. "The most trusted man in Lebanon is Sayyed Hassan [Nasrallah], and whoever listened to his last speech knows what I am talking about."

In that speech, Mr Nasrallah said the tribunal was likely to indict Hizbollah members as part of an Israeli plot to destabilise the country and Lebanese political figures were party to the plan. His comments left many worried about a resumption of violence. @Email:mprothero@thenational.ae