BEIRUT — The head of Lebanon’s largest Christian party says that a 15-year-old alliance with the country’s powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah was no longer working and must evolve.
The televised speech today by Gebran Bassil, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement, signals an unprecedented level of frustration with Hezbollah and suggests the 2006 alliance credited with helping maintain peace in the small country was in jeopardy.
Bassil’s comments come amid a devastating economic crisis and also ahead of critical parliamentary elections in which his party is expecting tough competition. Undoing the alliance with Hezbollah would cost him more votes in the May elections.
But Bassil, a former foreign minister, says the alliance is costing him credibility with supporters. Bassil is also the son-in-law of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun. He has positioned himself as a reformer and is believed to have ambitions to run for president himself.
Bassil pins his frustration on Hezbollah’s other ally, the powerful Shiite Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. He says in recent months Hezbollah has backed Berri’s Amal at the expense of their own alliance.
“We reached an understanding with Hezbollah (in 2006) not with Amal,” Bassil says in an hour-long speech. “When we discover that the one making decisions in (this alliance) is Amal, it is our right to reconsider.”
Bassil also criticizes Hezbollah for not backing his party on reform laws that he says aim to weed out corruption and ensure decentralized financial policies, or in efforts to protect constitutional powers of the president. Such choices have left Bassil unable to justify to his supporters Hezbollah’s decisions, he adds, openly blaming Berri for the rift.
“It is understandable why the Americans want to corner Hezbollah, but it is not understandable why (Hezbollah) wants to corner themselves,” Bassil says of Hezbollah’s alliance with Berri.
Hezbollah is designated a terrorist group by the United States. Bassil has been placed on a US sanctions list for corruption. He claims the sanctions are to pressure him to undo his alliance with Hezbollah.