Recent comments by a top Iranian general who said Hezbollah had taken 74 seats in Lebanon’s recent election received a swift rebuttal from the allied Free Patriotic Movement – whose lawmakers appeared to be included in that count – which insisted they were independent.
MP and caretaker foreign minister Gebran Bassil, who heads the FPM, said: “We are an independent bloc … with our own strength, we are not affiliated to anyone and no one follows us."
In a video shared on social media, General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, claimed that Hezbollah took 74 seats in May's election, a count that would include the FPM's 29 MPs. In the May 6 election, Hezbollah took some 14 seats, their close allies who ran as independent candidates took 10, the Amal Movement - the second half of the so-called Shiite duo - took 15 seats and the Marada Movement - a closely aligned Christian majority party - took 3.
Mr Bassil’s comments came after a meeting of the FPM on Tuesday evening to discuss Gen Soleimani's statement. The Christian majority FPM under now president Michel Aoun signed an alliance with Hezbollah in 2006 and was a core member of the now-defunct March 8 coalition of pro-Syrian parties.
Other MPs from the FPM and their ‘Strong Lebanon’ parliamentary bloc also commented on Gen Soleimani’s remarks.
MP Ziad Assouad said on Twitter that he was not "an ally of anyone but an ally of [Lebanon's] national interest, the constitution, the law and the free Lebanese people, who have entrusted us with representing the Lebanese nation."
MP Neemat Frem rejected the claims, stating that "I am personally committed to Lebanon's supreme interest, which is above all else. Lebanon's loyal allies will not allow it be part of a regional conflict."
Another MP from the ‘Strong Lebanon’ bloc rejected the claims that they were part of Hezbollah’s gains, saying that they were neither with one side or the other.
In the video, Gen Soleimani said that “despite massive Saudi support and accusations that Hezbollah is interfering in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and the region, the group won 74 seats in the 128-member parliament.
“Their victory came at a time where other Arab countries labelled it and its commanders a terror group,” he said. The US recently levelled sanctions against Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy Sheikh Naim Qassem.
Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, who leads the Future movement – a political opponent of Hezbollah - said that the Iranian general’s comments were “regrettable”.
“We would have liked to have state-to-state relations with Iran, however, just because they have lost [their influence] in Iraq, it doesn’t mean that they should seek to compensate for their loss elsewhere in the region,” Mr Hariri said following a meeting with Mr Aoun.