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Asharq Al-Awsat
Asharq Al-Awsat
Asharq Al-Awsat

‘Major Confrontation’ with Hezbollah Ahead in Lebanon, Says Geagea

Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces party, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his residence in Maarab, Lebanon June 1, 2022. (Reuters)

The Lebanese Forces party will veto as prime minister anyone aligned with the armed Shiite Hezbollah party and stick to its boycott of government if a new consensus cabinet is formed, the party's leader said on Wednesday.

Lebanon is in the throes of one of the world's worst economic meltdowns, according to the World Bank, with the local lira losing 90% of its value since 2019.

Analysts have warned that the divisions in parliament will likely delay consensus on reform laws needed to drag Lebanon out of crisis. They could also create a vacuum in top leadership positions.

While the LF and independent newcomers gained more seats in last month's elections, they still failed to prevent Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri from securing a seventh term as speaker in parliament's first session on Tuesday.

"If it's a government that includes everyone as usual, of course we won't approve and we won't take part," LF party chief Samir Geagea told Reuters.

"...They (Hezbollah) shouldn't celebrate too much," he said, adding that the splits in parliament would lead to a "major confrontation" between Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies on one side and the LF on the other.

Tuesday's session was the first since the new parliament was elected on May 15, in the first vote since Lebanon's economic collapse and the Beirut port explosion of 2020 that killed more than 215 people.

The LF was founded as an armed movement during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war but officially laid down its arms after the conflict.

It has taken part in both parliament and cabinet but has opted out of the latter since 2019, when widespread anti-government protests broke out in Beirut.

Independent lawmakers have balked at the LF's roles in the war and in the political establishment more recently, but Geagea said newcomer MPs would have little influence if they did not align with his party.

"We all need one another to be able to go through the process of change and recovery that is required," he said.

Lebanon's system of government now requires President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah and rival of the LF, to consult with lawmakers on their choice for prime minister.

Geagea declined to say whether the LF would support a fresh term for current premier and frontrunner Najib Mikati or if his party would back a different name.

The new cabinet will only last a few months, as parliament is set to elect a successor to Aoun, whose presidential term ends on Oct. 31. The next president would then name a new premier.

Aoun came to power as president in 2016 with the LF's backing after decades of intense rivalry between the two.

But Geagea said his party would also veto any presidential nominee backed by Hezbollah this time.

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