Cabinet Meets amid Controversy on Syria Visit, Hamadeh Walkout
The Cabinet convened Wednesday for an ordinary session at the Grand Serail with 34 items on its agenda, amid controversy over an expected visit by some ministers to Syria.
“I will visit Syria in my capacity as industry minister,” Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan of Hizbullah said ahead of entering the meeting, noting that “there are relations between Lebanon and Syria and some points pertaining to commerce and industry must be addressed between the two countries.”
Foreign Minister and Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil meanwhile asked: “Didn't we recently appoint in cabinet a Lebanese ambassador to Syria?”
But Labor Minister Mohammed Kabbara of al-Mustaqbal Movement noted that “ministers can visit Syria in their personal capacity and not in the name of the government.”
“Of course we are against the visit to Syria,” Mustaqbal's State Minister for Women's Affairs Jean Oghassabian said.
According to an official statement recited by Information Minister Melhem Riachi after the session, Prime Minister Saad Hariri opened the session by "underscoring the cabinet's decision to authorize the army to take the necessary measures at the appropriate time to resolve the al-Qaa outskirts battle against terrorism."
"PM Hariri underlined the importance of the dissociation policy as a general policy for the government... and the need not to implicate Lebanon in the conflict of (regional) axes," Riachi added.
Asked about the Syria visit, the minister noted that "the cabinet did not take a decision on this issue although it was discussed extensively."
"PM Hariri's remarks were clear on the need to dissociate Lebanon from regional conflicts and axes, and if a minister wants to visit Syria he can do so in his personal capacity and not according to a cabinet decision," Riachi added.
"The cabinet has dissociated itself from regional conflicts seeing as the government is a national unity government, and any visit will not be according to a cabinet decision," he emphasized.
Riachi also noted that the issue was not an official item on the cabinet's agenda.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani of the Lebanese Forces announced before the session that the timing of the army's expected battle against the Islamic State group would be raised in the meeting and that “the timing decision and the modus operandi is for the Army Command to decide.”
“There is no need to coordinate with any other side – neither with Hizbullah nor with the Syrian side,” Hasbani added.
Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi of the LF meanwhile noted that he would suggest the formation of a ministerial delegation that would visit Kuwait to address the issue of the Kuwaiti letter of protest over alleged Hizbullah involvement in a terrorist cell that has been recently convicted in the Gulf emirate.
Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh of the Progressive Socialist Movement meanwhile walked out “angrily” of the cabinet session, TV networks said.
Al-Jadeed television said Hamadeh walked out in protest at “the FPM's insistence that grants be put at the disposal of (Education Ministry employee) Sonia al-Khoury, who was appointed by former (education) minister Elias Bou Saab, in violation of the Constitution which grants the minister the jurisdiction to handle grants.”