Right-wing leader refuses Lebanese court summons over sectarian clashes

Samir Geagea said he would appear if Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah testified first

Supporters of Hizbullah mourn next to coffins during the funeral of the three people allegedly killed a day earlier by snipers, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon on October 15th. Photograph: Nabil Mounzer/EPA

Supporters of Hizbullah mourn next to coffins during the funeral of the three people allegedly killed a day earlier by snipers, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon on October 15th. Photograph: Nabil Mounzer/EPA

 

The leader of the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces party (LF), Samir Geagea, has objected to the summons by Beirut’s military court for questioning over last week’s sectarian clashes with the Shia Amal and Hizbullah movements. Mr Geagea said he would appear only if Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah testified first.

In the worst street violence Beirut has seen since 2008, seven people were killed and 32 injured when LF gunmen opened fire on Amal and Hizbullah supporters rallying outside the justice ministry in the mainly Christian Quarter of Ain al-Rummaneh, where Mr Geagea was born.

The protesters demanded the recusal of judge Tarek Bitar, who has called two ex-public works ministers belonging to Amal, Ali Hassan al-Khalil and Gazi Zeiter, for interrogation over the August 2020 explosion of ammonium nitrate in Beirut port that killed 215, wounded 6,500, and levelled nearby neighbourhoods.

All the dead and most of the wounded in the clashes were Shias who, according to Amal and Hizbullah, were victims of LF snipers positioned on rooftops. Mr Geagea claimed “the first four wounded” were Christians and contended that the quarter’s residents defended themselves against “an invasion” by supporters of the Shia groups.

Military court commissioner Fadi Akiki said most of the 26 people detained after the shootings belonged to the LF and said army intelligence had been told to summon Mr Geagea “and take his statement based on information provided by arrested LF members”.

Dismissing the allegation that the LF retains its 1975-90 civil war militia, Mr Geagea said, “Let no one think that the confrontation with Hizbullah is military. The confrontation is political par excellence.”

Campaign opening

Lebanese commentators suggest the clashes marked the opening of the campaign in the March 2022 parliamentary election in which the LF is in competition for Maronite votes with the Hizbullah-allied Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) headed by president Michel Aoun.

In this contest, the LF currently has the backing of the Maronite Phalange party. Its leader Sami Gemeyel praised the LF’s stand against Hizbullah and the FPM and said there was an ongoing “effort to unify the ranks of the opposition”.

Mr Aoun, an ex-general, and Mr Geagea are longstanding antagonists whose forces killed about 1,000 people in early 1990 during a conflict over the 1989 agreement to end Lebanon’s civil war negotiated in Saudi Arabia.

As Mr Aoun, then army commander, rejected the deal, the war concluded only in October 1990 after the Syrian army, with US permission, intervened and drove him into exile in France until an amnesty was adopted in 2005.

Mr Geagea was the sole militia commander to be held accountable for his actions during the civil war. He was tried, sentenced and imprisoned in 1994 for ordering four assassinations.