BEIRUT: Maronite bishops called Wednesday for the formation of a Cabinet away from foreign intervention, while a senior U.N. official said a new government was needed to help Lebanon face security challenges posed by the war in Syria.
Calls by local and foreign officials for the formation of a new government have increased recently amid signs a Cabinet will not be born soon in view of what Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam called “the jungle of conditions and counter-conditions” set by the rival factions over the makeup of the government.
“The formation of a Cabinet needs to give priority to Lebanon’s interest over individual and sectarian interests. No government should be formed under conditions and counter-conditions, or as a result of foreign interventions at the expense of the state sovereignty,” the Maronite bishops said in a statement following their monthly meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai at his seat in Bkirki, north of Beirut.
They stressed that a new government should be formed in Lebanon without interference by regional powers as had happened in the past. “Otherwise, a Cabinet [not formed by Lebanese parties] will be a recipe to new divisions in the country and a cause for an open crisis,” they added.
The bishops urged the Lebanese factions to distance themselves from the crisis in Syria, but without abandoning humanitarian solidarity with more than a million Syrian refugees who have flooded into Lebanon to flee the war in their country.
The bishops also hailed the international support intended to help Lebanon cope with the influx of Syrian refugees into the country.
“We welcome Arab and international willingness to help Lebanon in easing the heavy burdens caused by the rising influx of Syrian refugees beyond the country’s capacity and energy to accommodate,” they said.
An international meeting in New York recently announced $339 million in additional humanitarian aid in response to Syria’s crisis, including $74 million for Lebanon to support Syrian refugees in the country.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the formation of a new Cabinet was crucial to resolving the country’s problems.
“The formation of a new Cabinet will put the country on the right track. The Cabinet will play a role in tackling thorny issues and overcoming difficulties that are hindering Lebanon’s progress and recovery,” Charbel told a news conference after chairing a meeting to draw up a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli.
He said that President Michel Sleiman, who met with U.S. President Barack Obama and other foreign officials in New York last week, had received “big international assurances” to keep Lebanon away from regional conflicts.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly renewed his call for the formation of a government capable of facing security challenges as a result of the repercussions of the 30-month war in Syria.
Plumbly discussed with Speaker Nabih Berri the monthslong political crisis in Lebanon and latest developments in the region.
Referring to last week’s meeting in New York for the International Support Group for Lebanon, Plumbly said: “I briefed Speaker Berri on the inaugural meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in New York, which was a strong indicator of the international commitment to supporting Lebanon during this difficult period. I told Speaker Berri this will be a continuous process and that group members looked forward to its expansion in due course.”
He added that the ISG meeting was aimed at helping Lebanon face the challenges to its economy and state institutions resulting mainly from the Syrian crisis.
“It was also agreed at the meeting that safeguarding Lebanon’s security and stability can best be undertaken by strengthening state institutions. In that regard, I expressed the hope that efforts to form a new government capable of facing all these challenges would make progress soon,” Plumbly said.
Salam’s attempts to form a new Cabinet have been stalled by conflicting conditions set by the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup and role of the government.
Salam’s long-standing proposal for a 24-member Cabinet lineup equally divided by the rival parties and centrists has apparently been scuttled by the latest regional and international developments, namely U.S.-Iran contacts and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.
Rouhani’s Saudi visit is expected to leave a positive impact on Lebanon, where the two regional heavyweights back opposing sides. While Iran supports Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, Saudi Arabia backs the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance has rejected Salam’s 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup which denies them veto power and calls for the rotation of key portfolios among parliamentary blocs. Instead, it is pressing for a 9-9-6 proposal.
But sources close to Salam and the Future Movement have said the two sides oppose a 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal which would give veto power to the March 8 and March 14 camps.
The March 14 coalition urged Sleiman and Salam to form a new Cabinet “free of Hezbollah’s restrictions” and based on the “Baabda Declaration” to run the country’s affairs.
“The formation of a Lebanese government is a national responsibility and a constitutional duty that should be taken out of the circle of regional and international polarization,” the March 14 Secretariat General said in a statement after its meeting.
It pointed out that Lebanon has now entered the 24th week without a government, while the country is exposed at the social, economic and security levels in an unprecedented manner amid regional complications and negotiations to rearrange the situation in the region.
Declaring that Lebanon’s interests ran contrary to “Hezbollah’s conditions which exhausted the Lebanese and tied their fate to the developments in Syria,” the statement said: “The March 14 parties urgently ask the president and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to form a government free of Hezbollah’s restrictions on the basis of the Baabda Declaration capable of running the people’s affairs.”
The Declaration, designed to shield Lebanon from the repercussions of the unrest in Syria, has sparked a row between the rival factions. The March 14 coalition is pushing for the pact to be adopted as a policy statement of a new Cabinet, while the March 8 alliance wants to see the “Army, people and resistance” formula remain in the next government’s ministerial statement.