BEIRUT: Sunni and Alawite leaders in Tripoli and the North signed a six-item reconciliation agreement on Monday in an effort to curb tensions following recent sectarian fighting in which at least 22 people died. The reconciliation meeting was held in the evening at the home of the mufti of Tripoli and the North, Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, under the auspices of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Siniora read the text of the agreement, stressing that the city of Tripoli was against all forms of internal strife.
"Tripoli is against internal strife and refuses to be an arena of conflicts for foreign parties," he said.
Siniora arrived in Tripoli earlier on Monday, attending an iftar banquet at the residence of former Premier Omar Karami before joining the signing ceremony for the "Tripoli Document," which calls for eliminating all armed action in the North, handing over security to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), allowing displaced people to return to their homes, paying compensation for residents whose homes have been damaged during the fighting, and providing temporary shelter for those who need it. The document also commits all parties to refrain from all forms of violence.
After reading six-items, Siniora said that President Michel Sleiman fully supported the reconciliation in Tripoli.
"I am very optimistic," Shaar told AFP. "The accord will succeed because all parties took part in it," he added.
Future Movement leader Saad Hariri visited Karami late Sunday in the presence of Mufti Shaar. The meeting was also attended by Nader Hariri (Saad Hariri's cousin), Faisal Karami (Omar Karami's son), Hariri adviser Hani Hammoud, and Karami adviser Khaldoun al-Sharif.
Sharif told An-Nahar newspaper afterward that the two leaders discussed security and development issues and agreed to stay in contact.
On Monday Karami received a phone call fromleiman, who welcomed the reconciliation.
Hariri, himself a Sunni, has been in Tripoli since Saturday, trying to reconcile the city's feuding Alawite and Sunni communities. There have been tension between the two sects since the 1975-1990 Civil War. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam and straddle the border into Syria, whose President Bashar Assad is a follower of the faith.
Hariri accused Syria on Friday of using the instability in Tripoli as a means to meddle in Lebanon. The Syrians "want to use the situation in Tripoli as a pretext to involve themselves in Lebanese affairs and use it as a means for their military and security return to Lebanon," Hariri charged.
But Assad said he had asked Sleiman to urgently send more troops to North Lebanon to combat "extremism."
According to Shaar, the conflict in Tripoli was "neither sectarian nor religious. This is a political dispute and this is what has helped the [peace] initiative succeed."
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Sunday that he fully supported Hariri's efforts to calm tensions in Tripoli.
"We back all efforts to put the tensions in Tripoli behind us," Nasrallah said. "The important thing is not who sponsors reconciliation ... It is to halt the bloodshed."
The resistance leader added that no objection in principle had been raised to the idea of a meeting with Hariri to bury the hatchet after deadly clashes between supporters of the two leaders before the Doha Accord was struck in May.
"I have said that I am ready to sit down with him - there's no disagreement about the principle of a meeting, only about the venue," he said.
Also on Monday, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said he supported any meeting between Hizbullah and Future officials and urged all political parties to take similar "positive steps" that would foster reconciliation.
He praised Hariri's efforts in the North and hoped such efforts would have a positive impact on the entire country.
"Let the reconciliation in Tripoli be the beginning of a new era in which dialogue is the only way to resolve political disputes, no matter how complicated they may be," Jumblatt told his party's Al-Anbaa weekly.
Free Patriotic Movement leader and MP Michel Aoun also welcomed the reconciliation in Tripoli and hoped similar steps would be taken in other regions.
Aoun, who spoke after the weekly meeting of his Reform and Change parliamentary bloc, also lashed out at the media for the second time this month, this time accusing Hariri-owned Future newspaper of "media prostitution."
Last week, Aoun criticized a local French-language newspaper, L'Orient Le Jour, for saying last Saturday that LAF First Lieutenant Samer Hanna had been killed "in cold blood" by a Hizbullah fighter.
Aoun said that the paper should be sued for ignoring the results of investigations, referring to initial indications that the resistance man fired on Hanna's helicopter by mistake.
Hanna's helicopter was targeted by Hizbullah gunfire in the Sejod Hills, which abut the former Israeli occupation zone in the South. Hizbullah handed over the fighter and said that the Lebanese helicopter had been mistaken for an Israeli one.
Also on Monday, Aoun urged the LAF to investigate who ordered Hanna to fly his helicopter over Sejod.
"Despite the fact that Lebanese Army helicopters are free to fly over all areas in Lebanon, we all know that certain areas are more sensitive than others," Aoun said.
In a separate development, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said on Monday that the results of next year's parliamentary elections would determine Lebanon's fate and the nature of its political system.
"Voters will have to choose between a free and democratic Lebanon or the Lebanon ruled by fundamentalist and totalitarian factions," Geagea said, adding that Hizbullah's arms would "have a great influence on the forthcoming elections and would be used either to disperse Shiite opponents of Hizbullah or to reject the results."
As The Daily Star went to press, Sleiman was holding an iftar banquet at Baabda Palace, after which he was expected to deliver an address to the Lebanese people. - With AFP