By Hussein Abdallah, BEIRUT: The ministerial committee in charge of drafting the new government’s platform finally thrashed out a policy statement late Friday, with the council of ministers expected to ratify the draft on Monday before presenting  it to Parliament later next week.  Information Minister Tarek Mitri walked out of the committee’s 14th and final meeting to tell reporters at the Grand Serail that the committee has finally reached an agreement over the ministerial statement despite some reservations by Minister of State Nassib Lahoud.  Mitri said that the reservations, which were later clarified by Lahoud, would hopefully be dropped after further consultations between the ministers and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora ahead of an expected cabinet session on Monday.

Regarding the controversial issue of how to refer to the resistance in the ministerial statement, Mitri said that the committee agreed on a phrase that speaks about the right of the Lebanese people, army and resistance to use any legal means to liberate the remainder of the Lebanese territories that are occupied by Israel, namely the Shebaa Farms, the Kafar Shuba Hills and the border village of Ghajar.  Mitri explained that some committee members wanted the phrase on liberating Lebanon’s remaining occupied territories to include a clause stating that such activities should be carried out under the guardianship of the Lebanese state.  Mitri later gave the floor to Lahoud, who told reporters that he was still insisting that the statement should mention that the right to liberate the occupied territories should be exercised under the guardianship of the state.  The issue of the resistance was reportedly the main hurdle that was causing the delay in issuing the draft statement.

Telecommunications Minister Jebran Bassil also spoke to reporters after Friday’s meeting, outlining his position on the new ministerial statement.  Bassil, a senior member of MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, said that his party has succeeded in making some achievements through the ministerial statement.  Bassil said that the FPM has succeeded in including in the statement a number of issues which were referred to as taboos in the past. Among such issues was the fate of Lebanese citizens who were reported missing in Syria or Lebanon following the end of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War, he said.  Another issue raised in the draft, according to Bassil, was the fate of some Lebanese nationals who fled to Israel following Israel’s withdrawal from South Lebanonin May 2000. "The state’s duty is to urge these people to return to Lebanon," he said.  He added that another achievement was the inclusion of a clause clearly rejecting the resettlement of Palestinians refugees in Lebanon.

Earlier on Friday, Siniora said that the council of ministers was likely to hold a session on Monday to adopt the new ministerial statement.

In a brief chat with reporters after the Friday prayer at the Grand Serail, Siniora refused to comment on recent criticism by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who told the local As-Safir newspaper in remarks published on Friday that the premier was creating hurdles in the face of the new ministerial statement.

"I am glad for always being on Speaker Berri’s mind, but the truth is that I cannot compete with his sense of humor," Siniora said.

Siniora said he was optimistic about finishing the the draft statement on Friday. "It took us 14 sessions to draft the new government’s policy statement, but I believe that the final output will be good for all and will unify the Lebanese," he said.

Asked about how the resistance would be mentioned in the ministerial statement, Siniora stressed that resistance is a general Lebanese cause which is not restricted to one party.

"Upon reading the ministerial statement, you will realize that the state is the authority in charge of providing security and safety for the people … liberation is also part of the state’s duties," he said.

"Nobody wants to ignore the sacrifices that the resistance had made in the past years to end occupation, but no party can monopolize resistance and accuse others of being against it," he added. The premier stressed that the resistance issue would be further discussed during upcoming national dialogue sessions which will be chaired by President Michel Sleiman.

Meanwhile, Berri visited the Presidential Palace on Friday and discussed with Sleiman the latest developments regarding the drafting of the statement.

Sleiman and Berri both voiced hope that the ministerial committee would finish its work on Friday as a first step toward the draft’s adoption by the government, which would later sit for a vote of confidence in Parliament.

Also on Friday, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said after receiving British Ambassador Frances Mary Guy at his residence that protecting and defending Lebanon should be the exclusive duty of the security and armed forces.

"Past circumstances have led to the rise of some popular movements, but this does not change the fact that the only solution for Lebanon is to have the armed and security forces defend the country and preserve security," Geagea said.

"The army is the resistance and the state is the resistance … state institutions, particularly the armed forces, are Lebanon’s only salvation," he added.

Meanwhile, news reports on Friday said that Geagea had paid an unscheduled visit to parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri late on Thursday.

The meeting between Hariri and Geagea reportedly revolved around the drafting of the policy statement in addition to an imminent March 14 Forces meeting to revive the coalition ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Geagea’s visit came after a similar visit by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt with Hariri on Tuesday.

Jumblatt told reporters on Friday that his meeting was aimed at preparing for an imminent meeting for the leaders of the March 14 coalition.

Jumblatt added that the March 14 Forces would be united during next year’s parliamentary elections. A parliamentary majority source was also quoted as telling the Central News Agency on Friday that the March 14 general meeting would take place early next week.


BEIRUT: The International Tribunal that will try the suspected assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is set to begin its work by the beginning of next year, a source at the United Nations told As-Safir on Thursday.

The source, who the daily said is close to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said the UN chief "has pledged clearly that progress will continue toward establishing the tribunal," regardless of the latest political developments in Lebanon with respect to the election of a new president and the formation of a new government.

The same source indicated that the Security Council had agreed last month to extend the mandate of chief UN investigator Daniel Bellemare until the end of this year, but the source raised doubts that the Council would agree to extend Bellemare’s mandate again.

"This means that at the end of the year, the investigator will assume his new position as prosecutor for the international court," the UN source added, while indicating that Bellemare has made progress in the probe into Hariri’s February 2005 assassination. "I believe that he now has something that will enable him to proceed to assume the position of prosecutor."

According to the source, Bellemare is not planning to disclose the names of the accused, but rather he will deliver them to the investigating judge, who will in his turn decide whether to accept or reject the requests for detention.

The UN source said that Ban preferred not to announce the names of the Lebanese and international judges until the end of the year, "in order to reduce expenses and also to protect their lives."

He added that as soon as the judges’ names are announced, they will be transported to The Hague and placed under guard.

The Hariri tribunal will be based at a former Dutch intelligence headquarters in a suburb of The Hague.

In an interview with The Daily Star on Thursday, UN Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Nicholas Michel said Ban will not make any decision until the fall on when the head of the investigation of the killing of Hariri will take up the post of prosecutor at the long-awaited tribunal.

Ban will decide between "the end of September and mid-November" when Canadian Bellemare will become the first prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in Holland’s The Hague, Michel said.

Michel also said that the tribunal’s judges had yet to meet to set the rules of the tribunal and determine which judges will lead the tribunal’s trial and appeal chambers. – The Daily Star


At an Army Day ceremony held Friday at the Fayyadiyeh barracks just outside Beirut, former army chief and President Michel Sleiman addressed an audience of graduating cadets.

In his speech, Sleiman urged the army to unite and bring an end to internal sectarian fighting. Clashes between mainly Sunni supporters of the Future Movement and Alawites loyal to the opposition have been raging since June in the Northern city of Tripoli, one month after Hizbullah launched an armed takeover of West Beirut.