Middle East

Hezbollah leaders tell French president to change approach

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of the militant Hezbollah group said Tuesday they still welcome the French initiative to help Lebanon out of its crisis, but said Paris has to change its approach in dealing with local factions and not blame everyone for the failure of forming a new Cabinet.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a Cabinet made up of non-partisan specialists that can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract Lebanon from a devastating economic and financial crisis.

Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib resigned Saturday during a political impasse that came amid Lebanon’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades — made worse by a massive explosion in Beirut in early August that killed and wounded many and caused widespread damage.

Adib’s resignation was a blow to Macron’s efforts to break a dangerous stalemate in the crisis-hit country. Macron assailed Hezbollah and the entire Lebanese political class Sunday, and warned of a new civil war if they can’t set aside personal and religious interests to unlock international aid and save Lebanon from economic collapse.

During a news conference Sunday, Macron accused Lebanon’s political leaders of “collective betrayal” and choosing “to favor their partisan and individual interests to the general detriment of the country.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said “we do not accept such language” by Macron, adding that such comments “infringe on the dignity of Lebanese.”

Lebanon’s two main Shiite parties, Hezbollah and ally Amal, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, had insisted on retaining the Finance Ministry in the new government and on naming all the Shiite Cabinet ministers. Adib rejected those conditions and stepped down.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah and its allies hold majority seats in Parliament and marginalizing them is undemocratic. He added that four former prime ministers were trying to name the ministers without giving any information about their names to President Michel Aoun, who is a strong ally of Hezbollah.

Nasrallah insisted that his group has to be represented in the Cabinet so that it does not reach any agreement in the future with the International Monetary Fund to sell state property or impose new taxes.

“Can the people take new taxes?” Nasrallah asked as the country witnesses an economic collapse in which tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs in past months.

Nasrallah said the US should be blamed for the failure of forming a new Cabinet after it imposed sanctions on two former Cabinet ministers allied with Hezbollah. He also blamed King Salman of Saudi Arabia who accused Hezbollah of sowing the political disarray.

Macron reserved his toughest words for Hezbollah, demanding that it clarify whether it’s a democratic political force, anti-Israel militia or a tool of Iran — but also criticized Lebanese political leaders from all camps.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah fought Israel because it was “occupying our land.” He added that Hezbollah joined the war in Syria at the request of the Syrian government to fight extremist groups that France considers terrorist organizations.

“Your presence in Syria is illegitimate,” Nasrallah told Macron in reference to the presence of French troops there taking part in the fight against the Islamic State group.

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