BEIRUT, (Reuters) – The head of the Arab League met Lebanese leaders on Tuesday in an effort to mediate an end to a political standoff between the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Amr Moussa is meeting leaders from both sides to seek a way out of a crisis which some fear could turn violent in a country that has gone through two civil wars in the past 50 years.
In a move that could complicate his efforts, the government decided to refer to parliament a U.N. plan for an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. It did not say when it would refer the plan, a decision that lies with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The tribunal is one of the issues at the heart of the dispute between the government, which is backed by the United States, and the opposition, which is backed by Syria.
Moussa met Siniora and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, whose Shi’ite Amal Movement is part of the opposition and a Damascus ally. Moussa made no statements.
Upon arrival in Beirut, Moussa said he had ideas he hoped to discuss. “There must always be hope,” he said. He will meet Siniora again later on Tuesday.
A Sudanese Arab League envoy on Monday made little progress in bridging the gap between the government and the opposition.
Parliamentary majority leaders who control the cabinet are refusing to give in to an opposition demand for veto power. They say that doing so would lead to greater Syrian and Iranian influence in the Lebanese government.
Both countries back Hezbollah, which in turn has branded the cabinet a U.S. government in Lebanon. “Hezbollah and the opposition are waiting for a few days for what the Arab effort will yield. But there is a feeling that matters will reach a dead end,” analyst Rafik Nasrallah said.
Anti-government protesters are spending their 12th consecutive day camped out in central Beirut, just metres from Siniora’s offices, as part of a round-the-clock demonstration to press the opposition’s demands.
Anti-Syrian leaders say the opposition is trying to stage a coup to derail plans for the international tribunal. They accuse Damascus of the killing. Syria denies involvement.
Serge Brammertz, who leads the U.N. investigation into the Hariri killing in February 2005, said the inquiry was turning up “significant links” between Hariri’s death and 14 other later attacks in Lebanon. His probe continued to make numerous demands for interviews and evidence on Syria, which was cooperating in a “generally satisfactory” manner, he said.
Hezbollah and Amal, the most popular Shi’ite groups in Lebanon, have said they support the idea of the tribunal but want to discuss the details.
As speaker of parliament, opposition leader Berri is unlikely to call the chamber to vote on the plan before the political crisis is resolved.
The government’s steps to push through the plan have angered the opposition, which has declared the cabinet illegitimate since the Nov. 11 resignation of all of its Shi’ite Muslim ministers stripped it of any Shi’ite representation.
Government posts in Lebanon are divided along religious lines to ensure representation for the country’s array of sects. Hariri’s son and political heir Saad, Lebanon’s most powerful Sunni leader, is one of the dominant forces in government.
Sunni-Shi’ite tensions are high in Lebanon, as is bad feeling between Christians whose leaders are allied to the rival camps.