|Nasrallah and Aoun say partnership is still strong
|The leaders of Lebanon's largest Shiite and Christian opposition parties declared Wednesday that their two-year old alliance was still strong and that its greatest achievement was the maintenance of civil peace despite a long-running power struggle with the ruling March 14 Forces coalition.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hizbullah, and MP Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, made the announcement during a three-hour joint interview that was broadcast by the FPM's Orange TV on the second anniversary of their "memorandum of understanding."
Both described the pact as a kernel for a broader national accord. Nasrallah said it changed the way people deal with one another in all areas of the country and helped to prevent the spread of violence after the shooting deaths of seven protesters during the "Black Sunday" protests on January 27.
"Thus when Black Sunday happened [attempts to create] strife were defeated because of the memorandum," he said. "In the last two years the language of conflict and the 'Green Line' [which divided Beirut along Christian-Muslim lines during the 1975-1990 Civil War] was
defeated ... This civil peace is the greatest achievement."
Concerning the presidential crisis in effect since Emile Lahoud left office without a replacement in November, Aoun said that partial implementation of the Arab League's three-point plan - a new president, a government of national unity and the promulgation of a new electoral law - would not do. When Arab League boss Amr Moussa returns to Beirut later this week, he added, agreement needs to be sought on all three areas.
"We must come to an understanding as Lebanese, this is what I told the French president [Nicholas Sarkozy]," the MP said. Given the possibility of "international and regional policy shifts," he added, "we need guarantees between one another as Lebanese."
Responding to media reports that the opposition would withdraw its support for the presidential candidacy of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), General Michel Suleiman, over Black Sunday, Aoun referred to the same theme. The MP said that so long as agreement was reached on the makeup of a new Cabinet and the terms of a new electoral law, Suleiman was was still acceptable as a consensus candidate.
Nasrallah agreed, adding that Suleiman needed to ensure a "swift and serious" investigation into Black Sunday in order to preserve both national unity and that of the LAF.
"We in Hizbullah decided not to give our perspective on what happened so we do not place pressure on the investigation," he added.
The Hizbullah leader also said the memorandum had been the "blueprint" for national dialogue undertaken in 2006, stressing that most of the matters discussed - including his party's weapons and Israel's continuing occupation of the Shebaa Farms - were addressed in the document.
On the subject of missing Lebanese believed to be held in Syrian prisons, Nasrallah said he had brought a list of names to Damascus and been told that they were not in custody, adding that while he could play an intermediary role, the rightful interlocutor with Syria's government was Lebanon's.
Responding to the release of Israel's Winograd report on the summer 2006 war, he said it only confirmed that the resistance had prevailed in the conflict, singling out Christians for having embraced some of the 1 million displaced. "If this had not been the case," he added, "we would have lost the war and gone to a civil war."
The Daily Star