November 29, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 304

Lebanon on the Brink of Civil War (4)

November 29, 2006
Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 304


In recent days, the Lebanese media has been reporting on impending large-scale street demonstrations planned by Hizbullah. According to several reports, last night Hizbullah and its allies met and set the time and date for the launch of these actions; the reports also state that activists from Hizbullah, Amal, and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement have been placed on alert. The Lebanese, pro-Syrian daily Al-Diyar estimated that the actions would start within 48 hours, stating that Lebanon seems "headed for the unknown," and that the stubbornness of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora "has brought Lebanon to the brink of bloodshed."

Today, November 28, 2006, Lebanese papers also reported that there were several clashes during the night in various areas of Beirut, between activists from Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party and activists from the Free Patriotic Movement, and that these clashes followed attempts by the latter to hang flags and posters of Aoun in the streets of Beirut. Near 1 A.M., about 2,000 activists, from both parties, gathered at Sasin Square and the surrounding streets and taunted and threw stones at each other. Eventually, Lebanese Army soldiers arrived to break up the conflict. A similar clash in the Christian neighborhood of Al-Ashrafiya in the eastern part of the city was broken up by the army and by the internal security forces. [1]

The following are excerpts from recent reports and statements:

Hizbullah: Anyone Who Thinks Al-Siniora's Government is Legal is Part of the Lebanese Conflict

In a ceremony at the Al-Mahdi school, Hizbullah Executive Council Chairman Hashem Safi Al-Din warned of possible fitna (civil war) and called "not to heed the advice of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman, who, after the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, visited some of the top figures [of the March 14 Forces]... and incited them to take to the streets and continue [generating strife]." Safi Al-Din added that "[Feldman's] statements [actually] come from [U.S.] President [George] Bush, from [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice and from the American administration, which is encouraging [the March 14 Forces] to continue generating trouble, fitna, and conflict...

"Lebanon does not have a legitimate and legal government," continued Safi Al-Din,"but only a group that claims to be a government, a group that is usurping the government... As far as we are concerned, any government or element in the world which regards [the Al-Siniora] government or its decisions as legal is part of the internal [Lebanese] dispute. These elements [should not become involved] in the dispute, since they would thereby become involved in the conflict." [2]

Hizbullah Dep'y Sec-Gen: Al-Siniora's Government Must Officially Resign; The Street Actions Will Be Unexpected

In an interview, Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem told Hizbullah's TV channel Al-Manar: "Hizbullah is not [interested] in the details of the government session of Saturday [November 25, 2006, in which the Lebanese government approved its agreement with the U.N. on the appointment of an international court to try the suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri] - whether they concern the international court or any other issue. All we [know] is that this government has lost its legal and constitutional legitimacy - yet it continues to hold sessions and to make decisions that are of no practical value, since they are unconstitutional. As long as the government [itself] is illegal, its sessions are likewise illegal...

"This government must resign, officially and finally, through the resignation of Prime Minister [Al-Siniora]. Alternatively, it must replace [the ministers who resigned] so as to represent all [ethnic] groups in Lebanon. If it remains as it is, it will plunge the country into a legal and governmental vacuum...

"We hold [the March 14 Forces] responsible for [Lebanon's] political instability], for its economic deterioration, and for any failure that may have been caused by how the state is being run. We also hold them responsible for the creation of the [political] climate that led to the assassination of Minister Pierre Gemayel, because this climate created the right environment for the revenge-seeking bats of night, and for those who seek to [instigate] fitna in Lebanon."

Regarding Hizbullah's planned street demonstrations, Qassem said: "There is no cause to say that the peaceful activities [we are planning] are [meant as] a threat. [We are] exercising a right anchored in [Lebanon's] constitution and laws... We have decided to take peaceful and civilized action, without advance notice. We will announce every action at the proper time, in coordination and cooperation with our allies in the opposition. That is why we do not have a [fixed] schedule...We have a set of ideas, and we will use whatever seems to accomplish our desired goals... The timing will be announced unexpectedly, since this will make our actions more effective while allowing the other side [to act with] some degree of rationality - and we hope that it will do so before we reach an impasse." [3]

Qassem added that "[the opposition is not restricting itself] to one mode of action. We will take to the streets peacefully, with slogans prepared [in advance]. We will try to keep the slogans and the street [actions] as restrained as possible, but it is [always] possible that some may try to carry out reprehensible actions. But we have promised ourselves that we would not discuss the type, timing, and scope of our [planned] actions. The opposition leader has the set [of ideas], and when we decide on a certain action, we will announce it in the appropriate time and manner, according to its [particular] nature. We leave the initiative to the opposition leadership..."

Qassem noted that "the action will include sit-down strikes and other civic [events]. There may be a kind of civil disobedience... There may also be actions by [certain] sectors." He added: "We do not expect problems in [our] street, only in their street [i.e. that of the March 14 Forces]." [4]

Lebanese Paper Close to Hizbullah: The Zero Hour for Taking to the Streets Has Been Set

On November 28, 2006, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, reported that the opposition had already set the time and date for taking to the streets: "The statement 'the zero hour is closer than the jugular vein' is sufficient to explain the preparations by the opposition forces towards the launch of its extensive popular and political plan of action, which will continue until the Fuad Al-Siniora government resigns...

"Yesterday, the opposition forces held the most extensive consultation [meeting to date], far from the eyes of the regime, and it concluded with the setting of the zero hour, when the action on various levels will begin. This action will take place throughout Lebanon." [5]

On November 27, 2006, Al-Akhbar published a report titled "The Opposition Places [Its Units] On Alert: The Regime Has Crossed the Lines." It said: "There is nothing on the political horizon [that even] hints that it might be possible to reach an arrangement between the regime and the opposition... The opposition forces are planning to renew their action soon. At the same time comes news about the alert in the Free Patriotic Movement [Party], whose leader, Michel Aoun, called on all [party] leaders and activists to gather at all party centers and to stay there, even throughout the night... Opposition sources stressed that they were waiting for the zero hour to take to the streets, and that it was a matter of days..." [6]

Pro-Syrian Daily: We Have Received Instructions to Be On Alert; Al-Siniora Has Brought the Country to the Brink of Bloodshed

On November 28, 2006, the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Diyar reported that opposition activists had, during the previous night, received instructions to be on alert, and that they would apparently be taking to the streets within 48 hours: "The picture yesterday looked as if Lebanon was headed towards the unknown, or as if it had suddenly entered a forbidden [stage]...

"According to information exclusive to Al-Diyar, at 11 PM [yesterday, November 27] activists from [Michel Aoun's party] The Free Patriotic Movement, Hizbullah, and Amal received instructions to be on alert, in advance of a demonstration and a sit-in in front of the prime minister's residence [in Beirut], and also in a number of other regions. This is aimed at bringing about the resignation of Al-Siniora's government, and at establishing a government in which all will participate, and there will be a national unity government.

"This problem has many faces: The government that is ruling [unconstitutionally] is issuing draft resolutions and spending funds, while the president, the speaker of parliament, and the opposition, made up of 57 MPs, do not recognize it as a legal [government]. Al-Siniora is being stubborn, and has brought the country to the brink of bloodshed.

"A knowledgeable political source summed up the situation for Al-Diyar over the past few hours, in light of the fact that efforts and contacts had reached the point where no progress towards a solution to the crisis was evident: 'All the evidence shows that matters have reached an impasse, and are moving towards escalation. A solution [to the impasse] will doubtless be found in the streets. This [option, i.e. taking to the streets], is becoming stronger, to the point where, for the first time, it is possible to talk about the approaching zero hour.' The source declined to speak of the date and time of the opposition's street actions, but said that he thought it would not be much longer.

"Knowledgeable sources estimated that the opposition would begin its actions within the next 48 hours, and noted that the activity would be surprising, and that no 'zero hour' would be declared - rather, no more than five people would be informed of it. Sources close to Hizbullah noted that the [street] action was imminent, and that the week's extension referred to by the media following the assassination of Minister Pierre Gemayel was inaccurate. The sources said that the decision to take to the streets would come much sooner than that..." [7]

*H. Varulkar is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 11, 2006; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 28, 2006.

[2] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, November 24, 2006.

[3] Website of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, November 27, 2006.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 27, 2006.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 28, 2006.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 27, 2006.

[7] Al-Diyar (Lebanon), November 28, 2006.

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