Political banners removed, dialogue goes on

Political slogans and party banners were removed from Beirut, Sidon and Tripoli Thursday, a step the rival the Future Movement and Hezbollah agreed to during dialogue sessions in a bid to defuse sectarian tensions.

Operating upon the orders of the Interior Ministry, Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib and party officials supervised the campaign to clear the city of all political signs and posters advertising politicians.

Chebib said that rival partisans had started taking down the banners two days before and that the authorities would continue the work until the last banner was removed.

Similarly, North Lebanon Governor Ramzi Nohra watched the removal of all political banners from Lebanon’s second city.

“The campaign has begun and will not stop until all party banners and flags are removed, except for the Lebanese flag which will remain fluttering in all Lebanese areas,” Nohra said, as he toured several districts of Tripoli.

Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, neighborhoods that witnessed several rounds of Syria-linked violence in the past years, were among the areas where signs and banners were removed.

In the southern coastal city of Sidon, an advertisement billboard used by Hezbollah to mark and promote special occasions was also cleared of announcements conveying political messages, and of posters showing the party’s martyrs.

Only announcements about Hezbollah’s museum in the southern village of Mleeta were kept, while posters of the six Hezbollah fighters killed by Israel in Syria’s Golan Heights village of Qunaitra last month had been removed.

Tearing down political banners, signs and posters of leaders was one of the outcomes of ongoing talks between Hezbollah and the Future Movement. The dialogue aims at defusing sectarian tension in the country and facilitating the election of a new president.

Future bloc MP Ammar Houri commented on the campaign, saying “it was just a partial move, not the main aim of the dialogue.”

“We hope it is one step in the right direction, since political banners contribute to fueling tensions, and we had agreed with Hezbollah to defuse tensions as part of the dialogue,” Houri told Voice of Lebanon radio station.

The lawmaker underlined that his party had called for making Beirut free of illegitimate weapons as well, as an initial move which could be expanded to all parts of Lebanon without exception, in reference to Hezbollah’s military arsenal.

Meanwhile, a statement by the French Embassy Thursday said that French presidential envoy Jean-Francois Girault, who paid a two-day visit to Lebanon this week, stressed to Lebanese officials that France was mobilizing all its efforts through its contacts with relevant officials to encourage consensus and alleviate political paralysis in the country.

He discussed with Lebanese politicians the upcoming phase of this mission. Girault said it was important for all political factions to be responsible, adding that France’s efforts respected Lebanon’s sovereignty. Girault said that his country neither backed nor vetoed any presidential candidate.

In his second visit to Lebanon in two months, Girault held talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and several Lebanese leaders.

The French official had earlier paid visits to Tehran and Riyadh as part of efforts to help Lebanon end its presidential vacuum, now in its ninth month.

He voiced his country’s concern over the negative impact the vacuum was having on state institutions.

Also, Girault said that France, which has been participating in UNIFIL since its deployment, was actively committed to working on the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and avoiding any more hostilities between Israel and Lebanon.

Last week, Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli convoy in Lebanon’s occupied Shebaa Farms, killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding seven others.

The operation came 10 days after the Israeli strike which killed six Hezbollah fighters in Syria’s Golan heights. The violence raised fears that a wider conflict would erupt in south Lebanon, which has been calm since summer 2006, when Israel launched a month-long war on the country.

Media reports said that Girault would visit the Vatican next week for talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai regarding the Lebanese presidential election crisis.

The reports said the French envoy would possibly meet officials of the Holy See for consultations on the presidential crisis.

Separately, Prime Minister Tammam Salam arrived in Germany Thursday evening to participate in the Munich Security Conference to be held Feb. 6-8.

The conference will focus on the Syria crisis that has so far killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions since the war broke out in March 2011.