BEIRUT: The specter of an impending U.S.-led military strike against Syria prompted calls Sunday for a quick formation of a new government to cope with the possible negative repercussions of such a strike on Lebanon’s fragile security and stability.
Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil warned that Lebanon was passing today through one of its most difficult political stages ever.
“The formation of a new government in Lebanon has become a dire need,” Khalil, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, told a joint ceremony in the southern town of Mais al-Jabal to conduct mass weddings and honor students who passed high school exams.
“There is a need for an all-embracing and strong government to be formed quickly, a government capable of reflecting a genuine representation and capable of fortifying the internal Lebanese arena and coping with challenges in the region and the world.”
He also indirectly responded to the Future Movement and its March 14 allies that have rejected Berri’s latest initiative to break the five-month-long Cabinet stalemate.
“All those who had commented on this initiative should have discussed it seriously and responsibly away from reactions and narrow calculations,” Khalil said.
Last month, Berri proposed a five-day conclave for dialogue between March 8 and March 14 leaders that would discuss both the makeup and policy statement of the new Cabinet.
Some Future and March 14 politicians have rejected Berri’s proposal on the grounds that it is an infringement on the prerogatives of the president and the prime minister-designate.
Khalil warned a U.S.-led military strike on Syria would have adverse effects on Lebanon.
“Striking Syria and its army and stability, with its direct and indirect repercussions, will definitely and negatively affect Lebanon.”
Speaking in a Mass held for soldiers martyrs killed during a 2007 battle with Islamist militants in a camp near Tripoli, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said a further delay in the Cabinet formation was unjustified.
He urged rival political leaders to help solve the crisis of “forming a new, all-embracing, capable and effective government with a view to reviving the constitutional institutions.”
Noting that Lebanon was faced with worsening socio-economic conditions and the presence of nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees on its territory, he added: “All these matters can no longer tolerate any delay in the formation of a new government.”
“We hold the parties who are stalling [in the Cabinet formation] responsible for the consequences of this delay.”
Hezbollah blames the March 14 coalition for the postponements.
“Behind the reasons for the obstruction of the Cabinet formation and passing to the state is the March 14 coalition. These [parties] are spending money in order to cripple their state,” Hezbollah’s caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan told a rally in the Bekaa Valley village of Brital.
“They are crippling Parliament and preventing the Cabinet formation ... All attention is focused on Syria.”
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have accused the March 14 coalition, which supports the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, of hoping a Western attack will weaken the regime.
Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, deputy head of Hezbollah’s executive council, said the March 14 coalition was making a mistake by betting on a U.S.-led strike to improve its political standing.
“We do not want the March 14 team to put a wager on an aggression on Syria to overturn the [political] equations inside the country,” Qaouk told a rally in the southern town of Ainata.
“The reason for a delay in the Cabinet formation is that a regional decision awaits the results of the aggression on Syria.”
“The March 14 team make a mistake when they bet on exploiting the aggression on Syria.”
He added: “They must know that the dangers surrounding Lebanon are serious and real and that national duty calls on everyone to accelerate the formation of a government of national interest that would guarantee an effective partnership to everyone and would not exclude anyone.”
But Future MP Ammar Houri denied that his movement and the March 14 parties was betting on a military strike against Syria.
In an interview with Future TV, he said Hezbollah was in “a state of confusion,” waiting for the outcome of developments in Syria.
On the Cabinet crisis, Houri said: “ Hezbollah wants a government based on the current policy statement, the equation of ‘the Army, the people and the Resistance,’ and to have monopoly over its decisions.”
The March 14 parties oppose a Cabinet whose policy statement is the same one as that of the resigned government.
This formula was adopted by previous governments as the best means to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.
Last week, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam warned that no new Cabinet could be formed in Lebanon as long as the rival political factions stuck to their conditions and conflicting terms on the shape and role of the government.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have rejected a neutral, nonpartisan government. They demand a national unity or all-embracing government in which all the political parties are represented according to their current size in Parliament.