Lebanese President Michel Aoun, an ally of Israel’s arch-foe Hezbollah, seemed to leave the door open to eventual peace with the Jewish state, in an interview with French news channel BFMTV.
Lebanon has technically been at war with neighbouring Israel for decades, with tensions sporadically flaring in the border area in Lebanon’s south, stronghold of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement.
Asked in an interview on BFMTV on Saturday whether Lebanon would be prepared to make peace with Israel, Aoun responded: “That depends. We have problems with Israel, we have to resolve them first.”
His statement came in the wake of an announcement Thursday that Israel would normalise relations with the United Arab Emirates, only the third Arab state to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel since its creation in 1948.
“It’s an independent country,” Aoun said of the UAE.
Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement has for years been politically allied with Hezbollah, enabling them to dominate parliament and the government, which resigned on Monday amid outrage over negligence that led to the deadly explosion at Beirut’s port that devastated the capital.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday of the Israel-UAE agreement that “it’s a betrayal of Jerusalem and the Palestinian people. It’s a knife in the back.”
A key point of contention between Lebanon and Israel concerns oil and gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, where both countries have sought bids for exploration in their exclusive economic zones.
The maritime border between the countries is disputed.
Aoun’s interview was aired in the aftermath of the Beirut blast on August 4 that killed 177 people and wounded at least 6,500 more, with many blaming systemic corruption and negligence of the entrenched political class for the disaster.
Many Lebanese have demanded the ouster of the entire ruling class, dominated by ex-warlords from the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, including of Aoun.
Asked by the BFMTV journalist if he had thought of stepping down, Aoun said, “it’s impossible, there would be a vacuum”.