Hezbollah, Future talks on track despite tensions

The Future Movement and Hezbollah are to hold a new round of talks Wednesday despite renewed tension over the party’s role in Syria, political sources said Monday.

“Future and Hezbollah officials will resume their dialogue Wednesday on the presidential election deadlock and a national strategy to fight terrorism,” a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star.

The two sides began discussing these two key issues at their last meeting earlier this month. Wednesday’s will be the eighth dialogue session held by senior officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah since December, focusing mainly on defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions stoked by the 4-year-old war in Syria.

However, Wednesday’s session comes against the backdrop of tension between the two rival influential parties, whose strained ties in the past have put the country on edge.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s diatribe against Hezbollah drew scathing verbal attacks from MP Mohammad Raad, head of the party’s bloc in Parliament, and other officials, who questioned the benefits of the three-month-old dialogue while Future officials kept up their anti-Hezbollah rhetoric.

“MP Raad’s statement came in response to Fouad Siniora’s exaggerated provocation against Hezbollah and sounded the alarm about the fate of the dialogue,” the March 8 source said. “Raad’s statement reflected Hezbollah’s resentment with Siniora’s speech.”

According to the source, Hezbollah is committed to the rules and objectives of the dialogue with the Future Movement “because it sees that this dialogue is in the interest of the country and the two sides.”

MP Raad implicitly hit back at Siniora Sunday, a day after the head of the parliamentary Future bloc warned that the Lebanese state was no longer able to ensure the continuity of its institutions as a result of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria.

Raad told the Future Movement to choose between commitment to the dialogue or “let us part ways,” querying the worth of engaging in talks while “evil tongues” continue to attack the resistance and its project. Raad and other Hezbollah officials also scoffed at the March 14 formation of a National Council.

The March 14 coalition Saturday marked 10th anniversary of its founding with the creation of a National Council designed to reassert its multisectarian nature. Announcing the coalition’s political blueprint, Siniora blasted both Iran’s role in the region and Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.

“Everyone knows the role of Iran and its regional arms across the Arab world, at the forefront of which is Hezbollah, which is starting wars here and there,” Siniora said, reading the blueprint. “Because of this intervention, Lebanon is no longer safe from this swelling violence. The state is no longer able to ensure the continuity of its institutions and stands incapable of finding solutions.”

Responding to Raad’s veiled threat to withdraw from the dialogue, MP Samir Jisr, one of three senior Future officials representing the movement in the dialogue with Hezbollah, said: “We hope that MP Raad did not act in a haste and made a mistake in his stance.”

He said the Future Movement has not been notified that Hezbollah wanted to walk out of the dialogue.

“There are rules for everything. We have entered into dialogue [with Hezbollah] under rules and through Speaker Nabih Berri,” Jisr told Future TV. “Therefore, walking out of dialogue has its rules and it should be through the same gate. We have not been informed of any walkout from dialogue.”

Berri, the architect of the Future-Hezbollah dialogue, has been hosting talks between the two sides at his residence in Ain al-Tineh. He chaired only the first dialogue session in December and his political aide, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, has since attended the Future-Hezbollah talks.

In remarks published Monday, Berri criticized Siniora’s anti-Hezbollah speech, saying, “it did not conform with the current climate of dialogue.”

Defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions is the main item on the dialogue agenda, which also includes finding a mechanism to allow the election of a president, boosting efforts to combat terrorism, promoting a new electoral law and energizing stagnant state institutions.

Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi said his party is adamant on pursuing dialogue with the Future Movement.

“We know that some in Lebanon are seeking to disrupt and scuttle the dialogue and prevent us from reaching [positive] results,” Musawi said at a memorial ceremony for a slain Hezbollah fighter in the southern village of Aita Shaab.

“Therefore, we affirm in the face of all those [parties] that we and our partners are committed to continue dialogue and are serious about achieving results that would bring the Lebanese together into a united front against our real enemies,” he said.

Musawi said that Lebanon’s true enemies are the “Zionists” and takfiri organizations. “These two enemies are from the same stone. They meet not only in the battlefield but also in their policies and mentality,” he said.

Separately, the Kataeb Party said Parliament’s regular term, which begins Tuesday, should be used to speed up the election of a new president before lawmakers move to discuss and approve urgent draft laws.

“Parliament’s regular term should be turned into an electoral and later legislative workshop that would firstly and essentially lead to the election of a president, whom by practice, has proved to be more than urgent and essential,” said a statement issued after a meeting of the party’s Political Bureau chaired by party leader Amine Gemayel.

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