BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanese leaders have resumed talks on a demand by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah for a greater part in the Western-backed government, a move seen by its political opponents as a bid by Damascus to regain influence in Lebanese politics.
With threats from both sides to take to streets, the leaders sat for the round table talks at parliament house in downtown Beirut amid tight security, a day after a bomb blew up near a police barracks in the Lebanese capital.
The talks were attended by all Lebanese leaders, except Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah who sent representatives for security reasons.
The talks follow a warning from French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Saturday of the risks of renewed violence on the Lebanon-Israel border after the Jewish state’s devastating summer offensive in Lebanon and its war with Hezbollah.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to resort to street protests if the talks fail to help produce a government of national unity within a week from Monday.
In response, anti-Syrian Christian leader Samir Geagea warned that his camp was ready to stage counter-demonstrations.
The Shiite group Hezbollah has been seeking to cash in on its “divine victory” — for its guerrillas’ fierce resistance to the month-long Israeli offensive — by pressing for a government of national unity.
Hezbollah, which has two representatives in the 24-member government, is attempting to win greater national political power by inviting more of its allies into the cabinet to secure a “blocking minority.”
The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority has rejected the demand for a unity government before achieving a pledge for the ouster of Damascus protege President Emile Lahoud.
Lahoud’s term was extended for three years in a Syrian-inspired controversial constitutional amendment in September 2004.
The presidential election in the fall of 2007 and the creation of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the 2005 murder of anti-Syrian former premier Rafiq Hariri are at the heart of Lebanon’s domestic disputes.
Syrian officials and their Lebanese allies have stood accused of Hariri’s assassination in a Beirut bombing which forced Damascus to end nearly three decades of military domination of Lebanon in April 2005.