Lebanese Cabinet meeting postponed after minister’s bodyguards die in clashes

Rival Druze parties blame each other for the shoot-out

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri postponed a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, saying he needed time to defuse tension after two bodyguards of a junior minister were killed in violence between the country’s two rival Druze parties.

“I decided to postpone the session and let the judiciary do its work,” Mr Hariri said on Tuesday afternoon. He said there have been several arrests.

The Minister of the Displaced, Saleh Al Gharib, arrived in the Druze village of Qabr Shmoun on Sunday afternoon and gunfire broke out around his convoy, killing two of his bodyguards and wounding four.

The shoot-out was between men from the Progressive Socialist Party, the main Druze party in Lebanon, and his security guards. It is unclear who started the shooting.

Mr Al Gharib is a member of the PSP’s rival, the Lebanese Democratic Party.

LDP leader Talal Arslane has repeatedly called the incident an assassination attempt against Mr Al Gharib, saying that his car had 18 bullet holes.

PSP head Walid Jumblatt, who was abroad at the time of the shooting has kept a low profile, tweeting that he “would not enter a media debate about what happened”.

The two parties have been at loggerheads since the last parliamentary elections in May 2018 when Mr Al Gharib was appointed at the last moment in place of a minister representing the PSP.

A  PSP supporter was killed in armed clashes around the time of the elections.

When Mr Al Gharib arrived on Sunday in Qabr Shmoun, the road was blocked by protesters from the PSP, a party popular in the town.

Locals said they thought he was with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. They did not know he had cancelled his visit at the last minute because of the tensions it caused.

PSP supporters were incensed by recent speeches made by Mr Bassil, the head of Lebanon’s largest Christian party and an ally of the LDP.

During the speeches he alluded to fighting between the Druze and Christian communities during the civil war. Both sides committed atrocities against each other.

Mr Hariri said he hoped aggravation would soon blow over and showed his disapproval of Mr Bassil’s planned visit to Qabr Shmoun.

“If I decided one day to go somewhere where I knew in advance that it would provoke a negative reaction, then I should bear the result,” he said.

A few hours later, Mr Bassil defended his right to tour all regions in the country, saying: “Lebanon is for all."

Three suspects were handed over to General Security after its director, Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim, stepped in to mediate between the two parties, the state-run National News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The body of one of the two bodyguards who was killed, Rami Salman, was taken to his village for funeral rites.

The body of his colleague, Sami Abi Faraj, has not been returned to his family.