Lebanon News

Berri’s Iran visit aimed at ‘defusing sectarian tensions’

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati (L) meets with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/DalatiNohra)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said Wednesday that the Baabda Declaration was a temporary political agreement limited in scope and duration, adding that Speaker Nabih Berri’s visit to Iran this week was aimed at defusing Sunni-Shiite tension in the region. “The Baabda Declaration is neither a National Pact nor a Constitution, but a political agreement to manage a certain phase,” Khalil told Al-Mayadeen TV.

The Baabda declaration, agreed upon by Lebanese politicians in June 2012, calls for neutralizing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly Syria. Hezbollah violated the pact when its members fought alongside regime forces in key battles.

“A considerable part of Speaker Nabih Berri’s visit to Iran focused on how to reduce Sunni-Shiite tension in the region,” Khalil said.

During his two-day visit to Iran, Berri met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Speaker Ali Larijani, President Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian officials. Berri returned to Lebanon Wednesday.

Sunni-Shiite tension has been on the rise in recent years amid Saudi-Iranian differences, particularly over the civil war in Syria. Iran is a backer of the Syrian regime, while Saudi Arabia supports the rebels.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem said Wednesday that the series of car bombs in Lebanon was not a reaction to the party’s involvement in Syria.

He said the attacks had been carried out by takfiri groups that were targeting Syria and Iran as part of an Israeli engineered project.

“These rigged cars are a method to implement the project, not a reaction to our actions,” Qassem said during a memorial to mark the passing of seven days since twin suicide bombings targeting the Iranian Embassy in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan killed 30 people, including an Iranian diplomat, and wounded over 150. Two car bomb attacks rocked the Beirut southern suburbs in July and August, killing 30 people and wounding scores more.

Kamel Mansour succumbed to his wounds Wednesday, raising the death toll from the embassy explosion to 30.

“The takfiris are part of the project to stir chaos, fragment the region, strengthen tyrannical regimes and cultivate the needed environment to cement the Zionist entity in the region,” Qassem added.

Hezbollah argues that its involvement in Syria was aimed at preventing takfiri groups from attacking Lebanon.

“We protected Lebanon from a very dangerous situation by carrying out the honorable act of jihad in the battleground at the right time and place, so we could reach them before they came to us,” Qassem said.

While condemning the bomb attacks, the March 14 coalition said they were a retaliatory move by extremist Islamist groups fighting in Syria against Hezbollah.

Separately, President Michel Sleiman praised a statement issued by the Security Council Tuesday which adopted a series of steps for the International Support Group for Lebanon, including a meeting for country representatives in Italy to support the Army.

“This affirms Lebanon’s success in establishing a safety net to support its stability, economy, armed forces and efforts to address the problem of the Syrian refugees,” Sleiman said according to a statement from his office.

U.N. Security Council members Tuesday welcomed the high-level launch of the International Support Group for Lebanon by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in coordination with Sleiman, the statement added.

“Security Council members further welcomed the group’s successful mobilization of international support to address the country’s humanitarian, security and socio-economic needs. They encouraged continued efforts to rally support for Lebanon,” it said.

The UNSC urged Lebanese parties to facilitate the formation of a new government as soon as possible and commit to the policy of disassociation by keeping out of the crisis in Syria.

Separately, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati held talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and several Qatari officials during a short visit to Doha.

Mikati also met with Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister and interior minister, who welcomed Mikati at the airport. The meeting, attended by both delegations, addressed bilateral ties and joint cooperation.

Accompanying Mikati on his visit was caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and caretaker Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas, as well as head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Doha, Mikati said his visit had given momentum to bilateral ties between Lebanon and Qatar.

He added that the visit aimed at expressing gratitude to Qatar for its role in helping Lebanon, particularly in releasing the Lebanese pilgrims who were kidnapped in Syria and freed last month.

Mikati said the visit aimed at thanking Doha for its ongoing mediation to win the freedom of Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, abducted in April by armed men near the Turkish border with Syria, along with Lebanese cameraman Samir Kassab. Kassab was kidnapped in Syria in October.

“We also discussed the situation of the Lebanese in Qatar, affirming that they are receiving great care from the Qatari state,” he added.

Mikati also discussed means to support Lebanon with regard to the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees in the country and the repercussions of Syria’s war on Lebanon.

The caretaker premier said it was agreed that Lebanese ministers would meet Qatari ministers to brief them on the goals and mechanism by which the ISG’s multi-donor trust fund operates.

For his part, Charbel told a local radio station that after meeting with Qatari officials, he believed that positive developments were underway for the case of the two bishops. – Additional reporting by Dana Khraiche

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 28, 2013, on page 3.




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