DOHA (Reuters) – Lebanon’s two rival political camps were due to respond on Monday to proposals from Qatar’s prime minister intended to defuse a political crisis that has taken Lebanon to the brink of civil war.
The Arab League has been hosting talks in Qatar since Friday between the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition to try to end a confrontation that has lasted 18 months.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani made detailed proposals on Sunday on the possible shape of a new government, and a draft election law.
Agreement on these points would pave the way for parliament to elect army commander General Michel Suleiman as president, a post that has been vacant since November.
The Arab League intervened last week to end Lebanon’s worst domestic fighting since the 1975-90 civil war, when Hezbollah convincingly used its military muscle to thwart a government attempt to limit its power.
Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah fighters briefly took control of parts of Beirut in fighting that killed at least 81 people.
No timetable was set for the Qatar talks but, four days in, delegates said the clock was ticking. Sheikh Hamad was due in Saudi Arabia for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Tuesday and set to begin a foreign visit on Wednesday.
“I cannot tell you when we will finish,” said Arab League chief Amr Moussa. “We are half way there.”
The main sticking point appeared to be the composition of the government. Sheikh Hamad proposed a cabinet of 30 ministers in which the ruling coalition would have 13 seats, the opposition 10 and the new president would name seven ministers.
Opposition delegates say they will only accept a proposal that guarantees them 11 ministers — or veto power in cabinet.
If they fail to agree, delegates said the rivals might opt for a transitional government made up of technocrats or politicians belonging to neither of the feuding camps.
On the election law, the proposal would refer to parliament an existing plan for the 2009 general election that was drafted by a government-appointed committee of legal experts. That law combines the existing direct voting system with an element of proportional representation.
Delegates did not say if the Qataris had made any specific proposals to address a coalition demand for clear guarantees that Hezbollah would not turn its guns on Lebanese rivals again.
The United States blames Syria and Iran, both of which back Hezbollah, for the group’s offensive this month.