Nasrallah backs Aoun on Army, police chiefs

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has thrown his weight behind MP Michel Aoun’s demand for the appointment of new security and military chiefs, implicitly rejecting attempts to renew the mandate of the Army and police commanders, sources close to the Free Patriotic Movement head said Sunday. The agreement over Aoun’s demand was reached during a five-hour meeting between the FPM leader and Nasrallah held at the latter’s residence in Beirut’s southern suburbs Thursday night.

Aoun, speaking to close confidants, described the meeting with the Hezbollah chief as “excellent,” saying the talks were “very positive.”

There was agreement on political, security and military issues discussed during the meeting, sources close to Aoun, who also heads the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, told The Daily Star.

“Sayyed Nasrallah renewed his support for Gen. Aoun’s stances on the presidential issue as well as the issue of the appointment of a new Army commander, which will be a top priority because the presidential election does not seem to be imminent,” the sources said.

The Hezbollah chief also assured Aoun of his support for any step he might take to have his demands fulfilled, either through escalation or by exerting pressure, the sources added.

Aoun has threatened to withdraw his three ministers from the Cabinet if the mandate of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, who retires on Sept. 23, and Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, who retires on June 5, was renewed.

Aoun’s allies, including Speaker Nabih Berri, have told him that they prefer the extension of existing mandates over a vacuum in the top military and security commands.

Aoun, who staunchly opposes the extension of the military and security chiefs’ terms, is pushing for his son-in-law, Brig. Shamel Roukos, the head of the Army Commando Unit, to replace Kahwagi as Army commander.

Aoun and Nasrallah also agreed in their assessment of the Arab political scene, and the need to maintain security and stability in Lebanon, given the ongoing grave developments in neighboring countries, the sources said.

Aoun assured Nasrallah of his full support for any steps Hezbollah might take to fight terrorists, stressing that the danger they posed is not limited to one Lebanese area, or a section of the Lebanese people, but to all of Lebanon and the Lebanese, the sources added.

According to the sources, the alliance grouping Aoun, Nasrallah and Berri would not be shaken or affected by any secondary stances that sometimes surface inside or outside the Cabinet.

The meeting was also attended by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Hezbollah officials Hussein Khalil and Wafiq Safa. A Hezbollah statement said Nasrallah and Aoun discussed domestic political matters, at the forefront of which is the presidential election.

The two leaders also discussed “the terrorist takfiri threat endangering the whole region, and highlighted the necessity of fighting it by all means to protect Lebanon and its stability,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement and Hezbollah are scheduled to hold a new round of talks Monday amid a new war of words between the two rival groups over the 12-month-old presidential deadlock. The two parties have in the past few days accused each other of blocking the election of a president and throwing constitutional institutions into paralysis.

However, Berri underscored the importance of carrying on with the Future-Hezbollah talks, saying the dialogue, which he has hosted since last December at Ain al-Tineh, has so far made security achievements.

Among these achievements, Berri, according to Ain al-Tineh visitors, cited the implementation of a government security plan in Beirut, its southern suburbs, the Bekaa region, the people’s rallying behind the Lebanese Army in the battle against terrorism, the removal of political and partisan banners and slogans and putting an end to “a terror command room” in Roumieh Prison.

“Had it not been for the Lebanese citizens’ keenness to uphold a minimum of the current stability amid an inflammable region, they would have revolted against this entire political class because it is not normal for a country to be without a president, without a functioning Parliament or an effective government,” Berri was quoted as saying.

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