Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri warned Tuesday that the south of the country must not be used “as platform to settle regional and international scores.”
His comments, which carefully avoided direct references to Israel, were taken as a clear allusion to Syria’s confrontation with Western states which have intensified pressure on Damascus to stop its bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters demanding the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Hariri said last week’s bomb attack on a UNIFIL patrol that wounded five French peacekeepers was “a Syrian message” from Assad through his Hizbullah allies in Lebanon. Hariri, speaking to his supporters via Twitter, said the security incidents in Lebanon “raise big questions from the public about those responsible for them.”
“The government seems to be in a coma, ignoring what happened or even hiding the truth,” he said.
“Such matters do not happen just like that. It is a Syrian message from Assad through his friends in Lebanon," he said of the roadside bombing targeting French peacekeepers near Tyre.
Tensions in south Lebanon rose after a rocket launched from the region toward Israel fell short of its target, seriously wounding a Lebanese woman Sunday night. It was the second rocket launch targeting Israel in two weeks. The previous launch destroyed a chicken coop and ignited a gas tank in Israel.
The most recent rocket launch came two days after the attack on UNIFIL and nearly two weeks after rockets fired from the south hit northern Israel in the first such attack in two years, causing no casualties. These incidents raised fears of military escalation in south Lebanon against the backdrop of Arab and European economic sanctions on Syria for refusing to halt its crackdown on protesters.
Rival Lebanese factions are sharply divided between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. While the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance supports Assad, the opposition March 14 coalition led by Hariri's Future Movement openly backs the Syrian popular uprising.
The Future bloc expressed its concern over the attack on French peacekeepers, which it described as terrorism, and the firing of the rocket at Israel with such “suspicious and dangerous timing.”
It also called on the government to make all necessary efforts to uncover “those who are committing those terrorist and subversive acts which harm the country and its stability.”
Hariri and his followers have repeatedly called for discussions aimed at disarming and disbanding Hizbullah's militias, which they say the terror group uses to undermine the will of the Lebanese people.
They also accuse Hizbullah of assassinating late prime minister Rafiq Hariri – the father of Saad Hariri – and unilaterally drawing Lebanon into devastating conflicts, primarily with Israel, in the name of the 'resistance.'
Hizbullah denied involvement in the attack on UNIFIL personnel saying it continued to support the presence of peacekeepers.
“Hizbollah’s stance on UNIFIL has not changed. The party’s relations with UNIFIL are more than good,” the official told The Daily Star.
However, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea blamed Hizbullah for the security incidents in south Lebanon.
“Hizbullah is directly or indirectly responsible for the operations carried out against UNIFIL. Therefore, the party is responsible for the fate of the south,” Geagea told reporters at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.
“In the south, the real authority belongs to Hizbullah and the real security presence in the south is for Hizbullah,” he said.
“We all know that Hizbullah is responsible for all the incidents that happen in the south. Terrorist groups accused of carrying out these operations cannot exist in the south without Hizbullah’s knowledge or its cover,” Geagea added.