Jumblatt issues Hezbollah challenge

Druze leader warns of "anarchy" if Lebanon's political crisis is not addressed.

    Nasrallah's Hezbollah commands the loyalty of a large segment of the country's Shia population  [Reuters]

    Assassinations, the arming of militia groups and a continued vacuum in the presidency would "drag all to anarchy", Jumblatt said in the televised address, singling out Nasrallah for criticism.

    The rival sides in Lebanon's long-running political crisis have agreed on General Michel Suleiman, the head of the Lebanese army, as the country's next president, but his election has been held up by a dispute over the make-up of a new government.

    The parliamentary vote on his appointment was postponed on Saturday for the 14th time.

    "If you think that we will stand with our hands tied, this is pure imagination", Jumblatt said.

    Rally planned

    His speech came just days before a mass rally planned on Thursday for the third anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

    "If you think that we will stand with our hands tied,
    this is pure imagination"

    Walid Jumblatt, Druze leader

    Naim Salem, a political analyst from Notre Dame university told Al Jazeera that Jumblatt's comments reflected a shift from how he previously viewed Hezbollah.

    "He used to respect Hezbollah, now he has shown that he is against them and [Hassan] Nasrallah," he said.

    "It seems the political divide in Lebanon has reached a point of no return. I am afraid this may result in a violent confrontation."

    Later on Sunday, at least two people were injured when shots were fired as a convoy of supporters of Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party drove past the headquarters of the rival Lebanese Democratic Party in Aley, a security official told the AFP news agency.

    "Shots were heard and a passer-by was wounded by a stray bullet," the official said. A girl who was travelling in the convoy was also slightly injured.

    However, a statement from the Democratic Party said its building had come under fire from PSP "militia members". It warned that the incident could spark unrest among the Druze population and said Jumblatt would be held responsible.

    The Lebanese Democratic Party is a part of the opposition March 8 alliance that includes Hezbollah.

    Shots were also fired during an altercation between supporters of parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri, the son of the assassinated prime minister, and the security services of Nabih Berri, the parliamentary speaker.

    Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, after speaking with Jumblatt, said that he was aware his words could lead to an escalation of tensions, and he was not apologetic for it.

    "This is really the first time that Walid Jumblatt ... essentially talks about war. He talked about being ready for war and ready for chaos in very blunt and provocative terms.

    "He also talked about Hezbollah, talking directly to Hassan Nasrallah [in his speech], instead of what we're usually used to hearing, which is March 14 directing their harsh comments towards Syria and Iran.

    "He said he was ready to take away Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets, when the disarming of Hezbollah is a very sensitive subject in Lebanon."

    Shia Muslim Hezbollah is considered the strongest faction in Lebanon with command of a well-trained guerrilla army, but the group says its weapons are only for use against Israel.

    Tadros said Hezbollah considerd the remarks inflammatory but has yet to issue an official response.

    "A lot of people will be watching to see whether Hezbollah will have a harder line now for the government," she said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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