Middle East

Jumblatt says Syrian presence in Lebanon still strong

PSP leader Walid Jumblatt attends a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 1, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said Syria’s influence in Lebanon remains strong and added that some security agencies were acting on Damascus’s behalf, in interview with a local newspaper published Sunday.

In a separate interview with the BBC Saturday, Jumblatt said Syrian’s needed to defend themselves given what he described as “unparalleled international maliciousness” on the part of the international a and regional communities.

“The Syrian regime still has a presence in Lebanon and it is as strong as it was before,” Jumblatt told An-Nahar newspaper, adding that “there are some security agencies which receive orders from the Syrian regime.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Jumblatt also voiced his dismay over Hezbollah’s stance on its weapons and said the March 8 coalition equation of the “Army, people and resistance” would lead to ruin at the level of the state.

“Let them [Hezbollah] say that they are ready to facilitate the state’s affairs. We need a word from them that someday the decision of war and peace will be in the hands of the state,” he said, referring to a statement this month by Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad stating that the resistance party would hold onto its weapons until liberation from Israeli occupation is complete.

“It is true that the slogan of the ‘Army, people and resistance’ was successful in Adaisseh but under this slogan the state is diminishing in all areas - even in the southern suburb of Beirut,” Jumblatt added.

Jumblatt praised President Michel Sleiman’s efforts at restarting National Dialogue, describing him as having the patience of “Prophet Ayyoub.”

He said Sleiman was clear about his approach to Hezbollah’s weapons.

“The president posed a clear question: How to benefit from the weapons of the party [Hezbollah] to defend Lebanon against Israel. He did not say for the defense of the Islamic Republic,” Jumblatt said, referring to Hezbollah’s key ally in the region.

During his interview with Britain’s BBC, Jumblatt said arming the Syrian people for defense was the least that could be done given the failure of international and regional efforts.

“The quicker steps are taken to change and bring down the regime, the sooner we will spare Syria of more destruction, blood, fragmentation and civil war,” he said.

“At the end of the day there are people who went down to protest peacefully who were fired upon and they have to right to defend themselves. I did not ask for external intervention but I ask that the people be supported at the very least through supplying them with anti-air and anti-tank missiles,” he said.

Jumblatt criticized international and regional efforts to end the crisis in Lebanon’s neighbor.

“I see ... a form of unparalleled international maliciousness. The Friends of Syria conference, what did they do? Nothing – just one meeting after another, talks, and the Arab League is even worse,” he said.

Jumblatt also acknowledged that he had limited contacts with the Syrian opposition.

“Yes, there is contact with the [Syrian] National Council and part of the local coordination committees, our resources permitting,” he said.

Asked whether Assad would step down, Jumblatt said the chances of the embattled leader departing were slim given the backing of China and Russia as well as military assistance from Moscow and Tehran.

“So long as there are the Russian and Chinese vetoes and so long as there is backing from Iran and Russia in terms of weapons and gear, it appears he will continue to rely heavily on the security solution to destroy cities and villages completely,” Jumblatt said.

The PSP chief warned that Assad was taking Syria to “the unknown.”

“He is taking Syria to the unknown, maybe toward fragmentation. He is destroying everything, the social and economic infrastructures and the number of refugees in Syria has exceeded 1 million to 1.5 million and no one knows the accurate figure,” he told the broadcasting company.

Jumblatt also said he could not comprehend Hezbollah’s supportive stance of the Syrian regime.

“I don’t understand this position. Hezbollah has faced and continues to face Israel and helps in the confrontation against Israel and in support of what is right in terms of the righteous cause of south Lebanon and Palestine. But how does it square on one hand to support what is right in Lebanon and Palestine and on the other announce support to the unjust regime in Syria?” he asked.





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