Lebanon News

Holidays buy time for Syria-Saudi efforts

BEIRUT: Local holidays overlapping with the travel schedules of the country’s senior officials appear set to give Lebanon’s rival camps breathing space by delaying new rounds of Cabinet meetings and National Dialogue talks, to give regional contacts the opportunity to end the political crisis.

Cabinet meetings and National Dialogue talks are set to be postponed until after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s visit to Beirut on November 23 as officials take a break for Eid al-Adha and Independence Day.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri is scheduled to travel to Moscow Monday on a two-day official visit, after which he will head to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, before returning to Beirut on the eve of Independence Day on November 22.

The break comes at a time when rival Lebanese camps appear to have agreed to buy time awaiting the outcome of Syrian-Saudi contacts in a bid to break the political deadlock over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the UN-backed court tasked with bringing to justice those involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. An indictment to be issued by the international court is believed to accuse Hizbullah members in the 2005 killing.

Following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri Friday, United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams voiced concerns over the situation in the country.

But Williams praised the premier’s efforts along with President Michel Sleiman to reach a solution to disputed issues through dialogue and within the framework of constitutional institutions.

“We hope these efforts will be strongly supported by Lebanon’s friends,” Williams said.

For his part, Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali said Damascus and Saudi Arabia were pursuing their efforts in order to achieve Lebanese consensus. “The awareness by both the Syrian and Saudi leaders of the sensitivity of the situation and the dangers of what is being plotted for Lebanon and the region have led to discussions and coordination in the hope that chaos in Lebanon can be avoided,” Ali said.

Political sources said Hizbullah and its allies plan to escalate their stances if no compromise is reached after the holidays, after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made it clear Thursday his party would not allow the arrest of any of its members suspected by the STL.

Hizbullah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zeinab said Friday that Saudi-Syrian efforts would overcome the indictment by the STL to find a fundamental solution for Lebanon’s domestic crisis.

Abu Zeinab added that attempts by some domestic groups and foreign powers to jeopardize a solution and to fuel tension would be confronted.

But Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the Saudi-Syrian negotiations were not aimed at securing a compromise over the STL, but instead represented an attempt to pressure Hizbullah to preserve stability in Lebanon.

In an indirect criticism of March 14 parties, Abu Zeinab said some leaders, who stood behind the “false witnesses” in the Hariri case, “panicked” vis-a-vis demands to refer the issue to the Judicial Council.

Sources close to the Future Movement said its parliamentary bloc discussed intimidation attempts Friday that accompanied this week’s Cabinet meeting in a bid to put pressure on the March 14 coalition.

According to the sources, the bloc praised Sleiman and MP Walid Jumblatt’s stances following their opposition to seeing ministers vote on whether to refer the issue to the Judicial Council.

The sources added that during the meeting chaired by Hariri, Future Movement lawmakers described Nasrallah’s reference to current Syrian-Saudi efforts as positive.

During his visit to Russia, Hariri is to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to discuss the latest regional developments and other issues of mutual concern.





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