Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Friday said that the Shiite Hezbollah movement has lost its claim to bear arms against Israel since joining the war in Syria.
“The idea... that Lebanon needs the weapons of the resistance (Hezbollah) in order to face the Israeli threat... is an idea that has expired,” Hariri said, a Sunni Muslim leader.
Hezbollah’s weapons “have been shifted from fighting the Israeli enemy to fighting the Syrian people,” Hariri said in a television address from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he lives.
Widely considered more powerful than Lebanon’s army, Hezbollah never disarmed at the end of the 1975-1990 civil war on the grounds it was necessary to protect the country against Israeli attacks.
In 2006 it fought a bloody 33-day war against Israel that devastated much of the Shiite-majority south and parts of Beirut.
Hariri charged that the weapons belonging to the powerful Shiite movement were being used “to instill fear into Lebanon’s political life.”
In 2008, Hezbollah fighters seized control of a section of western Beirut during clashes with supporters of Hariri, sparking fears of a new civil war in Lebanon.
In recent months Hezbollah, whose military wing was blacklisted by the European Union in July, has fought in Syria alongside troops of President Bashar al-Assad to help crush an anti-regime rebellion.
Hariri’s remarks come a day after Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said for the first time that Hezbollah’s arsenal should be at the service of the Lebanese state.
On Thursday, Sleiman also said he opposed the Shiite movement’s involvement in the conflict in Syria.
Hariri’s speech also came just hours after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance on Friday at a rally in support of the Palestinians.
Hariri, the son of slain billionaire former premier Rafiq Hariri, has not been in Lebanon for nearly two years for fears of attempts of his life.
On Friday the U.N.-backed tribunal set up to try the killers of his father set a provisional start date for the much-delayed trial, saying it will open on January 13, 2014.
Four members of Hezbollah are due to be tried in absentia for the devastating 2005 Beirut seafront bombing that killed billionaire Hariri and 22 others.
Lebanon’s former PM Hariri says Hezbollah must disarm