Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he speaks during a live broadcast in this still image taken from video, June 24, 2011. REUTERS
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday his powerful Iran-backed Shiite movement is "open" to a French proposal for a new political pact for Lebanon.
His comments came a day before French President Emmanuel Macron was due in blast-hit Beirut for his second visit in less than four weeks to press for political reform and reconstruction in tandem with the start of political consultations to name a new Lebanese premier.
Western leaders, including Macron who last visited two days after the August 4 mega-blast, have joined calls from Lebanese at home and abroad for deep-rooted political change after the explosion at Beirut port killed more than 180 people and laid to waste entire districts of the capital.
"On his latest visit to Lebanon, we heard a call from the French president for a new political pact in Lebanon... Today we are open to a constructive discussion in this regard," Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
"But we have one condition: this discussion should be carried out... with the will and consent of the various Lebanese factions."
Speaking shortly before President Michel Aoun is expected to give an address to the nation to mark the centenary Tuesday of the declaration of Greater Lebanon, Nasrallah did not elaborate on what kind of changes his movement was willing to consider.
But he cited criticism from "official French sources" over Lebanon's "sect-based political system and its inability to solve Lebanon's problems and respond to its needs".
Lebanon recognises 18 official religious sects and its 128 parliamentary seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians, an arrangement unique in the region.
However, governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and failed to meet popular demands to improve living conditions.
Macron, the first world leader to visit Lebanon after the devastating port blast said at the time that Lebanese leaders had a "huge" responsibility, "that of a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks, that of deep change".
The explosion of a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate, left to languish for years in a warehouse, prompted the government to step down on August 10 and reignited a months-old protest movement demanding a political overhaul.
Consultations to name a new premier are scheduled to begin on Monday in tandem with Macron's visit.
Nasrallah said his movement would be "cooperative" in the formation of a government capable of spearheading reform and reconstruction.
'Over half of Lebanese at risk'
Many Lebanese have blamed the monster blast on a ruling class seen as mired in nepotism and graft since the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
The explosion that wounded at least 6,500 people and rendered thousands homeless without any significant government support revived a protest movement that had emerged in October to demand the wholesale removal of the political elite.
The blast came as Lebanon was already on its knees, struck by its worst economic crisis in decades compounded by a coronavirus lockdown.
Lebanon has defaulted on its debt, while the local currency has plummeted in value on the black market and poverty rates have soared, on top of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said Sunday that "more than half of the country's population is at risk of failing to access their basic food needs by the year's end", as a result of the country's multiple woes.
"Immediate measures should be taken to prevent a food crisis," said ESCWA executive secretary Rola Dashti.
Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs, and the annihilation of the silos at Beirut port could worsen an already alarming situation, aid agencies and experts warn.
Even before the blast, ESCWA said more than 55 percent of Lebanese are "trapped in poverty and struggling for bare necessities".
On Friday, Macron spoke of the "constraints of a confessional system" in a country populated by Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shiites.
"If we let Lebanon go in the region and if we somehow leave it in the hands of the depravity of regional powers, it will be civil war," he said.