BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has given his view on a number of recent controversies, including the Tripoli terrorist attack and attitudes toward refugees from neighboring Syria, which have shaken the settlement between him and the President Michel Aoun.
He also denounced criticism of Lebanon’s position at the recent Makkah summit of Arab leaders, particularly the statement made by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, noting that “Lebanon cannot be run by slips of tongues and hiccups.”
“Anger among Sunnis cannot be considered non-existent; it is a reality and it is the result of positions taken by key partners,” Hariri said.
“Lebanon’s relations with Arab countries are not subject to the whims of some (parties),” he added, stressing that “the first line of the constitution states that Lebanon is an Arab country, so it is worth noting that when a prime minister delivers a speech, he does so on behalf of Lebanon.
“I went to the Makkah summit and agreed to its decisions in the name of Lebanon. My position and speech at the summit go in line with the ministerial statement. The ones that think otherwise should go back to the decisions of previous summits and see who is truly violating the principle of disassociation.
“We should not put Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in a position of rivalry with Lebanon. It about time that we understand that the interests of the country should come before our personal and political interests and our loyalty to Lebanon should always come first.”
Hariri also addressed the controversy that arose at the weekend involving the Free Patriotic Movement, after it released a video in support of a campaign encouraging businesses to hire Lebanese nationals rather than foreigners, sparking allegations of racism. Subsequent comments on Twitter by party leader, and Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, provoked further criticism.
“I was very upset with the words (from the party’s) head, (Foreign) Minister Gebran Bassil,” said Hariri. “I wish the negation came immediately because the repercussions were very bad and they put us in an unacceptable position.
Hariri also criticized the decision by a court in May to acquit Lt. Col. Suzanne Hajj, who was charged with fabricating evidence against actor Ziad Itani, who was falsely accused of spying for Israel.
“It is unacceptable that a certain judge does what he pleases,” said Hariri. “There has been an interference in the judiciary. Nobody should cover for the mistake and I will not keep silent in this regard. The government made a mistake.”
Hariri then talked about terrorist Abdul Rahman Mabsout, who shot and killed two police officers and two soldiers last week during attacks on a bank, a police station and an army vehicle before blowing himself up. He had been detained after returning to Lebanon from Syria in 2016 but released the following year.
“Imprisoning him for a year and a half was not wrong; what was wrong is not properly monitoring him after his release,” said Hariri.
Finally, as debates continue regarding the 2019 draft budget, Hariri asked those blocking it: “Do you want the outcome of the Cedar Conference or not? Do you want McKinsey’s plan or not? Do you want our Arab brothers to come back or not?”
International donors pledged about $11 billion to Lebanon during the Cedar Conference in Paris in April last year, in return for which Hariri vowed to cut the country’s budget deficit. In July, global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. published a 1000-page report setting out its vision for Lebanon’s economy, with a view to unlocking that international investment.