Western lies and Syrian election

By Ghaleb Kandil

The United States, NATO countries and their Turkish and Arab vassals continue their war of attrition against Syria. They try to undermine the credibility of the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled on June 3, while the Syrian state is continuing its preparations to ensure the success of this popular consultation, during which three candidates will compete, which is a first in the modern history of Syria.
Among the pretexts evoked by the West and its allies to question the legitimacy of elections is the continuation of the war. But it is them who are making intensive efforts to prolong the conflict and therefore the suffering of Syrians. Gulf money continues to flow freely to finance terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, Turkish and Jordanian arsenals are wide open, while Washington, Paris and London provide technical assistance and training to extremists.
Feeding the war, the United States wants to torpedo any political solution to the crisis, preventing the Syrian State to renew and modernize its institutions on the basis of pluralism and democracy.
Western opposition to the organization of presidential elections is built on a bunch of lies. West itself has not failed to encourage some countries to hold elections in times of crisis (as in Ukraine, for example) and distribute certificates of good conduct, when the electoral process served its interests. Barak Obama was one of the first leaders to congratulate the Iraqi government to the organization, last week, of parliamentary elections, while the war against Al-Qaeda tears several provinces. Iraq had elections under U.S. occupation and the great defenders of political freedoms had swallowed their tongue at the time.
The wrath of the West is that the elections in Syria are organized by an independent and sovereign State, which has withstood one of the fiercest wars of recent decades, in order to recolonize the country. If the West really wanted to end the war, it would have dried up the sources of funding for terrorist groups, and have stopped Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming them.
The other Western pretext saying that the Syrian presidential elections undermine the political solution is a lie. Elections held in Iraq under American occupation took place in parallel with the political process. Same case for the presidential elections in Afghanistan, which took place while negotiations continued between Kabul and the Taliban.
In fact, when the West speaks of a political solution in Syria, he means his political plan, which is to cause a presidential vacuum in Syria, hoping to put the country under supervision in accordance with a resolution of the Security Council of the UN.
Finally, West argues that the outcome of the presidential Syrian is known in advance and that the victory of President Bashar al-Assad is acquired. In reality, these predictions are based on surveys conducted by the U.S. British and French intelligence services, including in refugee camps outside of Syria, who showed the great popularity enjoyed by the Syrian leader. The reports provided by intelligence show that President Assad would get three-quarters of the votes in any free election.


MICHEL SLEIMAN, Lebanese President
«It is unacceptable to apply democracy by obstructing the election process through not providing a quorum. Do the concerned parties not know that the continuity of the Lebanese entity depends on the election of a president? Do not take the country towards a constitutive conference that might contribute to changing the face of Lebanon

WALID JUMBLATT, Progressive Socialist Party leader and Lebanese MP
«The country only lives on compromises and consensus. It is better if no party defies the other with a candidate. I elect a president considering him as a Lebanese and not as a Christian. Everybody is waiting behind the scenes and in the embassies and working through their contacts to become president

GEBRAN BASSIL, Lebanese Foreign Minister
«Michel Aoun is waiting for the right conditions for his presidential project to succeed, not the right conditions for him to be elected president. His program can be summarized in two words: a strong Lebanon. Future Movement support for Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea never began [in the first place. The most important condition for successful presidential elections was the absence of foreign intervention. The first condition for success of any agreement on the presidency is national unity and distancing [of the elections] from foreign intervention. Time is short and previous experiences may further motivate us to reach mutual understanding. Without any change in conditions, there will not be any electoral sessions. If we do not succeed in coming closer together, no one can say what the forseeable future will bring

NOUHAD MACHNOUQ, Lebanese Interior Minister
«The current cabinet can manage people’s affairs and reduce the problems they might face if we reach a presidential vacuum

SLEIMAN FRANGIEH, Marada Movement leader and Lebanese MP
«Things are on hold because international circumstances are not favorable yet…the election session set for next week will not take place. It is our constitutional right to prevent a quorum from being achieved. The threat of a vacuum might be used to scare us into accepting any president but I do not fear a vacuum… and this is the difference between me and Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Boutros al-Rai. I call him not to be afraid of a vacuum. Saad Hariri wants a weak president. He wants neither Samir Geagea nor Michel Aoun to be elected. The dispute today is not over Lebanon, but over the big project in the region, the regional political stance, and its repercussions for Lebanon.»


• Syrian armed men opened fire at five youths from the Beqaa town of Arsal on Sunday, injuring three of them. The National News Agency identified one of the injured as eighteen-year-old Ahmad Abdel Atrash, while the two others were from the Hojeiri and Al-Jebbawi families. The incident took place in the Al-Rahwa area in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains.

• Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Assiri reaffirmed his country’s stance of not interfering in Lebanon’s ongoing presidential election, and said that there is no ban on Saudi citizens traveling to Lebanon. “The kingdom has not and will not interfere in Lebanese internal matters; it is the Lebanese who choose their president, and they are capable of doing that,” Assiri told Lebanon’s National News Agency in an interview on Friday. He added: “What we are working on is [the encouragement] of agreement between all Lebanese political forces in the time that still remains.” Assiri also said he had received “a guarantee from top officials in the Lebanese government concerning the state of the [national] security plan currently being implemented.” “[They assured me] that the security situation in Lebanon is calm.”

• Baath Party MP Assem Qanso called for a new law that would allow the people to directly elect the head of state as an attempt to avoid a potential power vacuum. “The solution is a new electoral law based on Lebanon as one [electoral] constituency,” Qanso said on Sunday during a meeting at his Baalbek residence. “If a new president is not elected, in order to avoid [a power] vacuum, there should be new presidential elections on the basis of… the people electing the president.” “It is okay for the president to be a Maronite for the first mandate or two, but afterwards, any Lebanese should be entitled to run for the presidency.”

• The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that Lebanon has become the country with the world’s highest concentration of refugees compared to its total population. “This month has marked a dangerous turning point, for the number of registered Syrian refugees and those awaiting registration has surpassed a million, making Lebanon the country with the highest per-capita concentration of refugees worldwide,” the UNHCR said in its report, published on Sunday. It noted that this week alone, over 50,500 refugees were registered, raising the total number to 1,044,000.

Press Review

(MAY 3, 2014)
A visit to Jerusalem by the patriarch of the Maronite church to greet Pope Francis would be a historic sin. In doing so, Patriarch Beshara Bourtros al-Rai would be the first patriarch to do so since the creation in 1948 of Israel, with which Lebanon is technically at war.
it is a dangerous precedent, The trip would not serve the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese, nor those of Palestine and the Palestinians nor Christians and Christianity.
Would the patriarch shake hands with Israeli leaders who will be in the front row to welcome Pope Francis to Jerusalem? Even if he does not, he would still have to coordinate his trip with Israeli officials. The visit is part of the normalization between the head of the Catholic church and the occupier.

(MAY 1, 2014)
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said that Saudi Arabia supports consensus among the Lebanese parties regarding the presidential elections. “The officials in Saudi Arabia that I met [had] a positive stance regarding the Lebanese parties’ consensus on a presidential candidate,” Abou Faour told Al-Liwaa.
The Progressive Socialist Party official also said that his recent meeting with Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri was positive. “The meeting with Hariri was good, and we managed together to put the train on [track],” he said.

(MAY 3, 2014)
Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri voiced his “real and serious” fear over the possibility of vacuum in the presidency. “If the same events of the last session occurred next Wednesday, and the quorum was not provided then the threat of vacuum in the presidency will be real and serious,” Berri told Al-Akhbar . He also said: "I will wait for the outcome of the third round on May 7 and if the quorum was not provided, I will take action.” “Political and sectarian division has created the problem of quorum, which is a condition to elect a president stipulated by the constitution, because none of the two political groups can dominate two thirds of the parliament.”

AL AKHBAR (MAY 1, 2014)
Judging from what happened on April 23 and April 30, the upcoming sessions of parliament to elect a new president are only a facade until political factions can decide on a consensus candidate. The number of MPs attending – those who want to reach quorum and those who want to evade it – will dwindle week after week. The 2014 presidential elections are starting to look like the 2008 elections.
Up until the constitutional deadline on May 25 and President Michel Suleiman’s departure from Baabda, it will not be likely to reach the quorum needed to elect a new president in the weekly parliament sessions. All sides are moving towards an inevitable void and the beginning of a new political phase. It will be based on adapting to the vacancy in the executive branch and attempting to prevent it from extending into the next constitutional deadline awaiting March 8 and March 14.
Between July 20 and November 20, another political hurdle awaits, which will be as complicated as the presidential elections. November 20 is the end of parliament’s term. Political factions must not to fall into another void, this time in the legislative branch. Parliamentary elections need to be held in that period, unless the MPs extend parliament’s term once again.
This hurdle, following the vacuum in the presidency, will mean that parliament would not only have to extend its term, like it did on May 31, 2013, but also find a way to pass the extension and publish it in the Official Gazette without the president’s signature. Presidential powers will be transferred to the government of Tammam Salam according to article 62 of the constitution. However, he will need to get the signatures of all 24 ministers for the parliamentary extension decree, as those powers are awarded to the council of ministers as a whole.
Of course, the next constitutional hurdle is not the main reason for electing a president. The expected void entails being prepared to tackle several problems.
After the parliament session on April 30 it is apparent the two-thirds parliamentary quorum will not be reached anytime soon, regardless of the number of sessions called by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. He could call for four or five sessions at most before the May 25 deadline. In the 2007-2008 elections, he called for 20 sessions, five within the constitutional time limit between July 25 and November 24, 2007, and 15 afterwards.
Back then, the same sides, March 8 and March 14, did not seem to be burdened by the constitutional deadline, which would have forced them to find a two-thirds majority to elect a president from the first round. It does not seem burdensome today either, with neither side seeing the constitutional deadline as the final date to elect a new president.
However, this also means the following:
 1. March 8 and March 14 are using the prospective vacancy as a tool for the next phase of the conflict. They are not worried about the outcome, as long as the Salam government contains ministers from both sides to manage the void in the executive branch and maintain stability. This would avoid a hold on power by one side, such as the Fouad Siniora government during the presidential vacancy in 2007-2008. Back then, after the end of Emile Lahoud’s term, Siniora was forced to visit former Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir to assure him that the cabinet would only use the powers of the presidency in the narrowest scope possible.
 2. Neither side is going to budge from their position on who should be the next president, except at an advanced stage of the presidential void, whose local and regional conditions cannot be anticipated. This could lead Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun to keep betting on being a consensus candidate with support from the Future Movement, without announcing his candidacy. It would also lead the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, to hold on to his candidacy in all the sessions set by Berri. Until now at least, neither candidate is ready to admit that clinging to their candidacy will lead to a stalemate, which could only be resolved if both exit the race. Hezbollah and the Future Movement are acting in the same manner. They both support their candidates wholeheartedly, allowing them to move ahead in their absurd gamble, until they get tired on their own and feel that they weakened the process and each other. It would be an illusion to believe that the Future Movement, which abandoned the three other March 14 candidates, will ask Geagea to pull out. The same goes for Hezbollah and Aoun.
Thus the quorum, which is the core item needed for electing a president, is turned into a marginal issue. In the current battle, neither side will be able to get their candidate into Baabda. It is also important to note that MP Walid Jumblatt will not give either side the simple majority, except through a political settlement that excludes both Geagea and Aoun.
 3. External signals do not point to an international intervention anytime soon to elect the president within the constitutional deadlines. Perhaps there will be some waiting time until Baabda becomes vacant. Some of the indicators around Riyadh’s position on the current contacts between the FPM and the Future Movement might explain the slow pace.
Despite avoiding to delve into the details, the kingdom’s only candidate at the time being is Geagea and it does not think of reconsidering its position. The Kingdom does not mind a dialogue between Aoun and Hariri, as long as it does not go against the Saudi position.
But there is still no answer to the lingering question repeatedly asked by Bassil to Hariri’s envoy: Why the insistence on Geagea?

AL AKHBAR (MAY 1, 2014)
In almost every controversial matter, Maronite Patriarch Mar Beshara al-Rai plays a starring role. After a series of contradictory positions and his visit to Syria in February 2013, he decided to take a step that his predecessors refrained from, visiting occupied Palestine as part of a papal delegation.
During the civil war, the Maronite patriarch opposed the relationship between right-wing militias and Israel. There are a number of Maronite religious orders in the Holy Land and a Maronite diocese headed by Bishop Boulos Sayyah, who for 16 years used the Naqoura crossing to travel between Lebanon and occupied Palestine. Sayyah’s visits took place with the knowledge and permission of the Lebanese state. But no head of a Lebanese church has stepped foot on these lands before because they did not want such a step to be perceived as recognition of or normalization with the Zionist entity.
The visit by Maronite Patriarch Mar Beshara al-Rai to Jerusalem in May can not go unnoticed, especially since no Lebanese patriarch has done so before. Why does Rai then, unlike his predecessor, insist on traveling to occupied Palestine as part of the papal visit?
Former Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir recalls in his memoir, as reported by journalist Antoine Saad, that he refused to accompany Pope John Paul II on his journey to the Holy Land because “there is a domestic situation that we must take into account. We have bishops that travel between Lebanon and Palestine, but taking into consideration the domestic situation, we preferred not to do it.”
Saad tells Al-Akhbar: “There is no enmity in the dogmatic sense, but Sfeir was always against the Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian cause and its actions in Lebanon.” He adds: “The position of the Maronite patriarchate was always clear in its hostility towards Israel and its belief that this entity has played a role that has caused us many calamities.” It is from this perspective that “Sfeir raised many questions during the civil war about the relationship between the Christian militias and Israel, which led to disagreements and tensions between him and the Lebanese Forces.”
However, one can not compare the two patriarchs according to Saad, they had different issues to take into consideration. “We should not forget that Israel had not withdrawn its army [from Lebanon] when Sfeir refused to participate in the Vatican’s delegation.” That is why, “I don’t consider the visit [by Rai] a normalization of relations. There are issues beyond politics and conflicts, namely Rai’s sense of attachment to the Holy Land,” Saad concludes.
Patriarchal deputy, Bishop Samir Mazloum, does not believe that Israel needs a visit of this kind to exploit politically. “The Arabs offer it a lot more,” he says. In an interview with Al-Akhbar he emphasized that a visit to Jerusalem “does not mean recognizing Israel. The position of the Maronite patriarchate is known. But there are obligations towards the pope and his visit first, and towards Maronites in Palestine second.” Even though Pope Francis is not the first pope to visit Jerusalem, Mazloum believes that the visit is a “historical occasion that compels Rai to be present.”
He hoped that people would not make a big deal of the issue. “It has nothing to do with normalization, the patriarch is not a political figure, he is visiting his parishioners and nothing more.” Israel will continue to be in Bkirki’s view “a usurping, occupying country that deprived a people of their land and attacked Lebanon.” As for Sfeir’s refusal to go on a similar trip, Mazloum says: “It was a different situation. The circumstances today, in Rai’s opinion, are different.”
One of the bishops who does not feel comfortable with the visit is trying to understand what made Rai agree to go on this trip. He tries to justify it by saying that the Maronite church has a bishop in occupied Palestine and “he remained Lebanese despite his travels between Lebanon and the Holy Land.” The patriarch is visiting his parishioners “and not the state in the same way that he visits other countries, especially Syria.”
Rai brought up the issue at the meeting of the Council of Maronite Bishops. He said the pope is going to visit the region and “I will take advantage of this trip to visit the church’s parishioners.” No one protested publicly, even though some of the bishops did not feel comfortable with the idea. The visit’s program is still not clear, but “there definitely won’t be meetings with any political figure since the visit is not to a state,” Rai said.
For some, Syria might be a provocative state that committed abuses during its tutelage of Lebanon but there is a huge difference. It is enough that the articles of the Lebanese penal code that punish any person who enters an enemy state does not apply to Syria. Drawing a parallel between Rai’s two visits is nothing but an excuse to justify an unnecessary visit. The patriarch could have chosen not to participate in the Vatican’s delegation, especially since there is a bishop who looks after the parish.
Who knows, perhaps Rai did not intend to raise controversy. The question here is not meant to be an indictment or an accusation of treason. But neither Rai, nor the bishops who describe Israel as a “usurping state” can use some Arab leaders’ relationship with the Zionist entity as an excuse. The purpose of the patriarch’s trip is to visit the Maronite community in Palestine but can he trust that Israel will not somehow implicate him by making him shake the hand of one of its officials in front of TV cameras?

AL AKHBAR (APRIL 30, 2014)
The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc announced their support for Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea’s presidential bid on Tuesday, while former Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) ministers Gebran Bassil and Elias Abou Saab in Paris. The bloc’s position could be a matter of courtesy between the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces. However, based on previous relations between the two allies and leaked information from the Paris meeting, it could now be said for certain that the rapprochement between Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and head of the FPM, MP Michel Aoun, has reached a dead end concerning the presidency.
This is not merely speculation. March 14 officials, particularly from the Future Movement, have been voicing that the their decision is final. Sources from March 14 indicated that Hariri told his allies and several of his assistants that he made up his mind about the presidency and he will not be choosing Michel Aoun for the position. According to the same sources, Hariri made sure he informed his allies prior to his meeting with Bassil, maintaining that he will proceed with dialogue with Aoun, but not on the basis of choosing him as president.
Certain Future Movement officials were intent on publishing this information, adding that Hariri reassured his allies that he will not be betraying the coalition. Parliamentary sources close to Hariri linked this position with two issues: the Saudi rejection of Aoun being chosen as president, and Bassil’s recent visit to Moscow and his talks about oil, gas, and weapons for the army with the Russians.
The sources indicated that negotiations between the FPM and the Future Movement concerning oil and gas "have reached a dead end." They also revealed that Hariri was annoyed with the "conference held by Bassil in Russia with its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, especially when he asked Russia to buy oil and gas from Lebanon," saying that "oil and gas are not cooking oil, you cannot just ask anyone to buy them." According to the same sources, Hariri was bothered by "Bassil’s statements in Russia about the possibility of sending aid to the Lebanese army."
The sources also maintained that the "US-Iran rapprochement is in its final stages, which should reflect positively on the entire region, including the relationship with Hezbollah." They indicated that "when the picture becomes clearer, contacts will be between the Future Movement and Hezbollah directly, without the need for a middleman."
On the other hand, FPM sources expressed surprise about the rumors of Hariri’s backtracking on his amiable stance concerning Aoun’s presidential bid. "The meeting between Hariri and Bassil in Paris yesterday, lasting for five hours, refutes all those unfounded leaks," the FPM sources explained. "It is Fouad Siniora’s people inside the Future Movement who are spreading such harmful rumors. He is the only one who is not happy with the rapprochement." This is verified by "recent statements by his close MPs."
"The FPM has never said that the rapprochement will lead to the election of General Aoun as president," the sources continued. "We said earlier that the contacts are related to several internal issues." They indicated that " some Future Movement partisans are sending a message to Saad Hariri."
On the eve of the second parliamentary session to elect a new president, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri announced that his bloc will be present and will not participate in attempts to create a lack of quorum, like he promised before the April 23 session. "The Development and Liberation Bloc will be the first to attend and the last to leave the session," Berri announced and said he will wait for 30 minutes for the quorum before adjourning the session to a later date.
Although he did not set the next date, awaiting what might be emerging in today’s session, Berri said that he had two prospective dates for two other sessions. However, if their quorum is not met, he will not sit idly and merely set new dates. He will act according to his responsibilities as the speaker of parliament to find an exit from the looming crisis. However, Berri did not hide his concerns about a continuous lack of quorum until the country gets close to May 25, the constitutional deadline to elect a president.
"Currently, available data indicates a lack of consensus regarding the new president. Thus the quorum of two-thirds will not be reached," Berri explained. He maintained that he was not aware of the details of the Paris meetings between Hariri and Bassil. "If it is positive or they agreed on something, it will take some time for it to translate onto the political scene while both sides deal with the agreement with their respective allies. But nothing is tangible yet. If an agreement was reached, the president will be elected in two days at most."
Does he see external action concerning the issue? "I had informed the ambassadors I met about the need to safeguard the Lebanese aspect, which I am sticking to, and some of the external positions I get directly or indirectly through ambassadors confirm this direction," Berri explained. "For example, the Americans told me their position on the Lebanese presidential elections. They said they will not pick one candidate over the other, that they will not veto anyone, and they want the elections to be on time."

AL AKHBAR (APRIL 29, 2014)
Tensions are escalating in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp. In the past, people feared a clash between the Fatah Movement and Islamist groups, but today they are more concerned about a possible confrontation between Islamists themselves. Such tensions may threaten the Palestinian initiative to isolate the refugee camps from ongoing internal and regional conflicts and undermine the memorandum of understanding signed between different Islamist factions that have come together under the group known as the Muslim Youth.
In a meeting held on April 28 at the Palestinian embassy headquarters in Beirut, members of the parties behind the Palestinian initiative to pacify and protect the refugee camps (19 nationalist and Islamist factions) agreed on a security plan for Ain al-Hilweh, located on the outskirts of Saida in southern Lebanon. Chief of the Palestinian National Security Forces, Sobhi Abu Arab, will head a security meeting today to create a preliminary plan.
According to a Hamas representative in Lebanon, Ali Barakah, a Palestinian higher political committee expects to receive the first draft of the plan within a week, so it can add its own remarks before presenting it to Lebanese political and security forces.
Barakah explained that the plan’s main goal is to support the security forces who have already been deployed in the camp about a month ago. He also revealed that the idea first came up during a recent meeting with the director of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim.
However, concerned parties have yet to agree on the plan’s details and how it will be implemented. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk discussed the prospects of such a plan during a meeting with heads of security bodies held in Saida last week. He also inquired about the feasibility of deploying the army inside the camp and setting up police stations in some of its neighborhoods.
Yesterday’s meeting followed a recent spate of violence in the camp amid rising fears of clashes between moderate and extremist Islamists.
Following the assassination of Sheikh Orsan Suleiman, Ain al-Hilweh residents expected Fatah to take action. However, Osbat al-Ansar was the faction that stormed into the strongholds of rival Islamist groups Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam, and deployed gunmen in their neighborhoods overnight Saturday.
Osbat al-Ansar issued a statement later saying that Islamist forces “won’t allow anyone to compromise the camp’s security and the lives of its residents,” warning against “those seeking to spread sedition.”
In a phone interview with Al-Akhbar, Osbat al-Ansar leader, Sheikh Abu Tarek al-Saedi, attributed these actions “to many reasons that have been accumulating,” saying that Osbat is worried that some forces are no longer focusing on Palestine “but on Lebanon or on each other.” Though Saedi refused to give a particular reason behind the deployment of their gunmen, informed sources revealed that it was in retaliation for the shooting of a senior Osbat official identified as Taha Shreidi in Safsaf Street.
Shreidi escaped unharmed but on the next day, Osbat arrested a suspect identified as Ali Abdul-Jabbar belonging to Bilal Badr Islamist Brigade that has already - along with others close to the emir of Fatah al-Islam, Oussama al-Shahabi - targeted Shreidi.
Bilal Badr Islamist Brigade and Fatah al-Islam have both been verbally attacking Osbat and the Jihadi Islamist Movement in private sessions and on social networks for coordinating with Lebanese political forces, mainly with Hezbollah, saying that security bodies allow them to leave the camp whenever they want.
Abu Sharif Akl, an Osbat spokesman, attacked in his Friday sermon those promoting a culture of dissent among Muslims, saying that there is a hit list with leading sheikhs’ names on it. He also linked the assassination of Shehabi’s nephew to the call of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk and the new chairman of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Hassan Mneinmneh, to disarm the camps.
Since the assassination of Ahbash official, Sheikh Orsan Suleiman, in the camp, Akl has been moving around with a gun on his side, while Sheikh Jamal Khatab has his own armed bodyguards.
In a ten minute audio message, Shahabi refrained from accusing any party of killing his nephew Ali Khalil, but stressed that his group is ready to retaliate against all aggressions.
According to informed sources, Palestinian and Islamist factions now fear a new string of assassinations and car bombs. While they ruled out an imminent clash between moderate and extremist rival Islamist groups, they expressed their concern about the involvement of parties from outside the camp.
In the meantime, Mneinmneh hosted the first Palestinian delegation since he took office and was handed a petition advocating the right of return, rebuilding the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp and refusing displacement.

Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel said he would aim to play the role of a consensual candidate if Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s presidential campaign fails, and called for cooperation between presidential hopefuls for the good of the country. “At present we in the March 14 alliance have adopted Geagea’s candidacy and if Geagea manages to break through the [boundary] that is surrounding him we will have achieved our goal,” Gemayel told Okaz in an interview. “If he can’t, we will see what happens. In that situation all possibilities would become open and my candidacy would become a reality.”
The Kataeb Party leader said his candidacy would be “natural” because he has been on the political scene for a long time and does not face the “obstructions others [face].”
He added that keeping open relations with all Lebanon’s political forces has improved his chances of being a consensual president. “My ambition is to be a consensual candidate, but my own ambition is not enough to make that a reality, as all [Lebanon’s] political forces have their own interests.”
“I have kept [communications open] with all players and for this reason no independent parties, no March 8 parties and no blocs have shown me the same negativity that has been shown to Geagea.” Gemayel went on to address Geagea and Aoun: “We must all look to the interest of the homeland before any personal consideration in these fundamental constitutional positions. We must look to the bitter reality the country is going through and cooperate to achieve the country’s interest, not the interest of any party.”

Change and Reform bloc MP Fadi al-Awarsaid Lebanon’s presidential elections would fail and there would be no negotiations between his bloc’s leader Michel Aoun and the March 14 alliance as long as it continues to support Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s presidential campaign.
“Wednesday’s electoral session will be like its predecessors and an incomplete quorum will remain the last word as long as agreement is not reached between Lebanon’s [political players] on the identity of the next president,” Awar said in an interview published by As-Seyassah .
The March 14 alliance and the Future Movement in particular would “remain unable to enter serious discussions with Aoun to reach agreement on [his presidential campaign] as long as they do not get out of the closed circle Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea has put them in by running for president.”
“The Change and Reform bloc and its allies in [the] March 8 [alliance] want Lebanese consensus on a strong president, capable of uniting [the country], and that is Michel Aoun.”
Awar added that while Friday’s meeting between Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri was inconclusive, discussions with Hariri would continue until an understanding was reached.
“[The meeting] did not fail as much as it ended on the principle of ‘debate [as a] connection.’ This is because the Future Movement has not yet found a means to extricate [itself] from the predicament of Geagea’s candidacy.” “Negotiations will continue until an understanding on what constitutes the strong president is produced, even if parliament overruns the constitutional deadline [for election of a new president.]”

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