Lebanese Party Leader Says Hezbollah Must Go

BEIRUT (AP) -
A poster depicting Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Adaisseh village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Tuesday. (Reuters/Aziz Taher)

The leader of a major Christian group in Lebanon on Tuesday blamed Hezbollah and its local allies led by President Michel Aoun for the rapidly deteriorating economy and worsening relations with neighboring Arab countries, saying the only solution is for them to leave power.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, told The Associated Press that Monday’s military activity along the border with Israel was a clear indication the current Lebanese government, which Hezbollah supports, doesn’t have sovereignty in the south, along Israel’s border, where thousands of U.N. peacekeepers are based.

Lebanon claimed on Tuesday that Israel violated its sovereignty in the incident. Israel said it was acting in response to an attempt by Hezbollah terrorists to infiltrate across the border.

“Yesterday’s incident gives a clear idea about the state of sovereignty for the Lebanese state. Is that acceptable?” Geagea said in the telephone interview. “Which Arab and foreign countries want to deal with a government that considers itself nonexistent at a time when there is a security danger along its border?”

Hezbollah and its allies of the Free Patriotic Movement of President Aoun control majority seats in parliament and are the main backers of the current government that took office earlier this year. Prime Minister Hassan Diab replaced Western-backed Saad Hariri who resigned in October, following nationwide protests against widespread corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s rulers.

Since then, the government has struggled to contain the escalating crisis, made worse by the pandemic. The government defaulted on paying back its debt for the first time in March, and the past few months have seen the Lebanese currency lose more than 80% of its value.

The government has requested a bailout from the International Monetary Fund but negotiations with the lender that started in mid-May have stalled because of divisions within the Lebanese leadership. Oil-rich gulf nations as well as international donors are refusing to give Lebanon a hand before major reforms are carried out within state institutions.

Geagea, whose party has taken part in successive governments for the past decade and has 15 legislators in the 128-member parliament, said Lebanon received much assistance from Arab and Western countries in the past but all was wasted. Only a new, independent government would be able to win back the international community’s confidence, he said.

Geagea warned the alliance between of Hezbollah and Aoun’s party “has brought Lebanon to where it is and they will continue to do the same in the months to come.”

“As long as they are in power we will continue in the crisis. It is a very simple and clear equation,” Geagea said. “They are living on a different planet.”

The state’s strategic decisions are in Hezbollah’s hands, leading to deteriorating Lebanon’s relations with Arab states, he also said.

Geagea, whose party played a major role in Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, said that once Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Yemen, Syria and Iraq, and stops implementing Iran’s policy, Arab states will most likely review relations with Lebanon.