BEIRUT (Reuters) – The leader of Lebanon’s pro-Western majority in parliament said on Thursday the country was in direct confrontation with Syria and Iran, which back the Hezbollah opposition group in its conflict with the Beirut government.
Saad al-Hariri, whose coalition is supported by the United States, said Syria and Iran and “their local tools” were seeking to “impose a terror, security and political siege” on Lebanon.
“If our fate is confrontation, then we are for it,” he said.
The speech, including rare criticism of Iran, reflected increased tension between the coalition and the opposition, which appeared far from resolving Lebanon’s worst political conflict since the 1975-90 civil war.
The crisis has deepened divisions between followers of rival sectarian leaders, led to the worst street violence since the civil war, paralyzed government and left Lebanon without a president.
Hariri said Lebanon faced dangers which “put the country in direct, open confrontation with the Syrian-Iranian project” and he called supporters to a rally on Thursday next week to mark the third anniversary of his father’s assassination.
Former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a truck bomb on February 14, 2005. Hariri and his allies have accused Syria of the killing and subsequent assassinations of anti-Syrian figures. Damascus denies the allegations.
The governing coalition accuses the opposition of seeking to restore Syrian influence brought to an end by international pressure after the Hariri assassination. Syria was forced to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.
Lebanon has been without a president since November when the term of close Syria ally Emile Lahoud ended. Members of parliament have been called to a presidential election in parliament on Monday.
However, the vote appeared to be heading for a 14th delay in the absence of a deal between the sides.
“There are no presidential elections on Monday. The conditions are not at all ripe,” said former President Amin Gemayel, one of the governing coalition’s main Christian leaders.
The rivals have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as the candidate for the presidency. The vote has been held up by a dispute over the make-up of a new government.
Only Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure, can officially postpone the election.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa arrived in Beirut on Thursday to resume efforts to mediate a deal under an Arab states’ initiative. His previous missions have failed to produce a breakthrough.
Tension has been aggravated since Moussa’s last visit by the killing of seven activists affiliated to the Shi’ite Muslim opposition groups Hezbollah and Amal. Three officers and eight soldiers have been arrested over the January 27 killings.
Political analysts say the shootings have thrown into doubt Suleiman’s candidacy for the presidency, further complicating the search for an to a crisis that erupted in November 2006 when opposition ministers quit the government.
The opposition wants veto power in the cabinet or an equal three-way split of seats with the governing coalition and the president. The coalition has rejected the demands.
Some analysts say the crisis could drag on for months or even until parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.