In Khaldeh on April 24, the anti-Hezbollah camp demonstrated a rare instance of unity.
Representatives of the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Progressive Socialist Party and Forces of Change, attended a meeting that was held in solidarity with the local Arab tribes residing in Khalded, who were recently targeted by a military court ruling deemed unjust. The ruling related to the clashes that occurred between the tribes and Hezbollah gunmen in August 2021. The opposition figures seized it as an opportunity to criticize Hezbollah and its arsenal.
Nonetheless, their occasional convergence on countering Hezbollah is not enough to bridge the distance between them on the presidential issue.
The anti-Hezbollah parties still struggle to put in place a joint action against the candidacy of Amal and Hezbollah-backed Sleiman Frangieh.
The party's leading figures remain optimistic, however. They say their strategic convergences will help them unify their ranks in the next phase. This was the image that Tripoli MP Ashraf Rifi summarized to L’Orient-Le Jour.
“We are against Hezbollah exercising its stranglehold over the country. We must build on this to free the country from Iranian hegemony,” he said, recalling that the opposition has already come to an agreement on several other issues.
MP Marc Daou, (Forces of Change\Aley), who was also present at the Khaldeh meeting on Monday, shares Rifi’s sentiment
“Khaldeh’s event was of a political-social nature, but it could be placed as part of the several occasions testifying to the unity of opponents,” he said. Daou said that the opposition had repeatedly brought the March 8 camp against its limits, particularly by blocking parliamentary sessions.
“This is not an easy thing,” the thawra MP said. “In Khaldeh too, the opposition sent a clear message to Hezbollah.”
The LF also interpreted the Khaldeh meeting from a similar lens. “The opposition members agree on the principle of respect for justice and that is why they went to Khaldeh in unified ranks,” said MP Nazih Matta (FL\Aley).
The presidential election
The presidential battle was not far from the meeting. Michel Moawad, reformist MP for Zgharta, made sure to attend the meeting. By making the public trip, Moawad sent Hezbollah the message that he is still running for president against his rival Frangieh.
“Their divisive plan is to settle political scores by discriminating between those who support the moumanaa and those who are hostile to it,” Moawad said in reference to the Hezbollah members that were spared by the sentence.
Moawad, like several leading figures of the opposition, called for the abolishment of the military court and the other special courts.
His remarks clearly indicate the opposition’s willingness to continue the battle against Hezbollah. With this in mind, they are continuing to hold meetings on the presidential election.
National Liberal Party leader and Baabda MP Camille Chamoun told L’Orient-Le Jour that several names are on the table today, including that of former MP Salah Honein.
“But until we reach a broader agreement, we will continue to support Michel Moawad,” he said.
Chamoun said the presidential election is a regular topic of the opposition figures weekly meetings. It is in this context that Moawad and Kataeb Leader Sami Gemayel met this morning at the party’s headquarters in Saifi.
Military court accused of favoring Hezbollah
The ruling passed last Wednesday by the military court in the case of the August 2021 clashes in Khaldeh caused turmoil both on the ground and at the political level. Several parties denounced the sentence, which favored Hezbollah over the Khaldeh Arabs, Lebanese nationals who are descendants of Sunni Arab tribes that settled in the area decades ago.
In August 2021, violent clashes involving automatic weapons and RPG rockets raged between Hezbollah supporters and the tribal Arabs leaving at least two people dead.
The fighting began after the funeral procession of Hezbollah member, Ali Chebli, was ambushed. Chebli was shot dead a few days prior at a wedding, by a young man from the Ghosn family. The assailant’s brother had been killed in an altercation the previous year.
The ruling made by the president of the military court, Gen. Khalil Jaber, applied to dozens of individuals, all of which are members of the Khaldeh tribes. Nine men were sentenced to death in absentia. One was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor and five other men to nine years.
Omar Ghosn, a Salafist sheikh considered hostile to Hezbollah, was sentenced to seven years of forced labor. Two others were sentenced to five years of forced labor and six to a year and a half in prison. The latter were released, having already served their sentence. A minor was referred to the competent court. In addition, eleven people were exonerated.
As soon as the judgment was made, members of the Arab tribes protested against what they denounced as an injustice against them. The highway linking Khaldeh to the capital was blocked by demonstrators burning tires on several occasions.
At the political level, those hostile to Hezbollah have opposed the judgment.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.