BEIRUT: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised President Michel Sleiman in a report to the Security Council on his tabling of a national defense strategy and urged Lebanese politicians to return to the dialogue table following the crisis sparked by the assassination of a top security official.
Ban also told the top world body in his latest report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 that Lebanon needed to prepare for a further influx of Syrian refugees and expressed concern about reports of “Lebanese political forces” being involved in the Syria crisis.
“I commend President Sleiman’s initiative in tabling his vision for a national defense strategy, including with regard to use and control of arms held by Hezbollah which is an important starting point for discussion,” Ban said in the 20th edition of the report, an advance copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Daily Star.
At a National Dialogue session On Sept. 20, Sleiman proposed a national defense strategy that would allow Hezbollah to keep its arms but place them under the command of the Lebanese Army, which would have exclusive authority to use force.
Rival Lebanese politicians are at odds on the issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal.
Under Sleiman’s proposal, Hezbollah would not hand its weapons over to the Army, as demanded by the March 14 coalition, nor would there be coordination between the resistance and the military, the defense strategy that Hezbollah has backed.
In his report, Ban said Sleiman’s proposal placed the strategy within the framework of national and international legal instruments, including UNSCR 1701.
“It highlights the need to strengthen the Lebanese Army and looks for agreement around the principle of the exclusive right of the Lebanese Army to the use of force and frameworks and mechanisms for control and use of Hezbollah’s arms until such time as the Lebanese Armed Forces are so strengthened,” it said.
Ban reiterated that the maintenance of arms by Hezbollah and other groups outside the state’s control continued to pose a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability, “and stands in contradiction to the country’s obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701.”
He expressed his belief that only a Lebanese-led, political process, “with the ultimate aim of ensuring that there are no weapons outside the authority of the government,” would ensure that the objective of the resolutions could be achieved.
In the 17-page document, the U.N. leader also described the recent assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan as a “terrorist bombing” deliberately aimed at destabilizing the country.
Hasan, who headed the police’s Information Branch, was killed in a car bombing that ripped through the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh on Oct. 19.
Blaming Syria for the killing and holding the March 8 dominated Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati responsible, the opposition March 14 alliance called on the government to resign and boycotted National Dialogue.
The U.N. secretary-general said in light of Hasan’s assassination, the Lebanese needed to engage in dialogue.
“I also underline Security Council members’ appeal to the Lebanese people to preserve national unity in the face of this murderous attempt to undermine the country’s stability and their call upon all Lebanese parties to continue to engage in dialogue.”
He said that while political leaders needed to guide the country through this delicate period, there was a “strong interest” for both the U.N. and international community in supporting the Lebanese state and in the continuity of its institutions.
Western countries, including the five veto-wielding states at the U.N., have expressed solidarity with Lebanon as it struggles to overcome the crisis over Hasan’s assassination.
In the report to the Security Council, Ban also expressed concern over reports suggesting “Lebanese political forces” were involved in the crisis in Syria, particularly a recent reports of the death of Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon’s neighbor.
Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has denied reports that members of the Lebanese resistance group are fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and said one of the group’s members was killed in Syria but not in combat.
Ban said it was “imperative” that all Lebanese sides refrain from any involvement in the Syria crisis and for sides to abide by the “Baabda Declaration.”
Lebanon has an official policy of dissociating from developments in Syria and rival political leaders agreed during a National Dialogue session to ensure that the country remain neutral from the events there. The latter pact is commonly referred to as the “Baabda Declaration.”
Noting the backdrop of the Syrian crisis, Ban also commended Lebanon and its leaders for showing resilience and determination in working toward protecting stability.
He also lauded the Lebanese government in terms of assistance to Syrian refugees fleeing unrest in their country but warned that the sharp increase in the number of displaced represented a growing challenge for the country.
“It is important that the government continues to plan for further possible influxes given the continuation of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic and prepare effectively with partners for more acute needs for assistance in the coming winter season,” he said.
He also highlighted the limited international response to the U.N. refugee agency’s appeal to donors for assistance and urged member states to step in.
“I stress that the need now appears much greater than anticipated and encourage Member States urgently to look again at support for Lebanon,” he said.
According to the latest report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are over 115,000 Syrian refugees registered with the U.N. agency in Lebanon.
Ban also praised the Army and its work with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) but said the military needed to continue to maintain a significant presence in southern Lebanon “commensurate with the important tasks it must perform in line with Lebanon’s obligations under resolution 1701.”