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Hopes high in Qatar for Lebanese crisis talks

Latest update : 2008-05-17

Leaders of Lebanon’s warring political camps are holding talks in Qatar aimed at resolving the country’s crisis. But while there is some optimism on the ground, the underlying issues have yet to be resolved. (Report: F.Berruyer, A.Dupuis)

Lebanon's rival leaders held tense talks in Qatar on Saturday to try to end a political conflict that has pushed their country to the brink of a new civil war. But stakeholders face major hurdles to reaching a deal.

 

After days of heavy fighting, which claimed at least 65 lives, Lebanon’s squabbling political leaders held tense talks on Saturday in the Qatari capital of Doha, aimed at pulling the country back from the brink of civil war.

 

The talks follow Thursday’s deal to end the bloody fighting, which was reached by Arab mediators in Beirut.

 

As leaders of Lebanon’s competing sectarian groups – including pro-Syrian Shiite groups such as Hezbollah and their rival Sunni and Druze groups that form part of the ruling coalition – arrived in Doha, hopes were high for a deal that could end the country’s current crisis.

 

“Yesterday’s meeting was a huge positive step,” Samir Tueni, a journalist from the leading Lebanese Arabic daily, al Nahar, told FRANCE 24 Friday. “And we expect tonight’s meeting to continue in that direction.”

 

Led by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, the team of Arab negotiators in Beirut got the Lebanese government to reverse moves against Hezbollah, which triggered the recent fighting.

 

Under the deal, the Western-backed, anti-Syrian governing coalition agreed in effect, to detract demands to shut down Hezbollah’s communication network system and backtracked on its calls to oust the Beirut airport chief, who was seen as having close ties to Hezbollah.

 

But while the deal stopped the recent violence – the worst of its kind since the brutal 1975-1990 civil war – it did not address the underlining issues that have plunged the country into a political crisis since Nov. 2006.

 

Lebanon has been without a president since Nov. 24, a year after opposition ministers resigned, demanding more power in the national coalition cabinet.

 

‘We’ve never been so close’

 

The Doha talks are aimed at addressing the broader political standoff that has gripped this multi-religious country sandwiched between Syria and Israel.

 

The political crisis has led regional as well as international powers to express concern over the situation.

 

Washington blames Hezbollah’s backers, Syria and Iran, for the Shiite group’s seizure of parts of Beirut last week. And Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, a strong backer of the ruling coalition, has warned that Hezbollah's campaign could affect Iran's ties with Arab states.     

 

After months of political disturbances that has seen the opposition pitch a protest

camp in Dec. 2006 that has effectively closed off central Beirut, experts say the Qatar talks could well end the political stalemate.

 

“We’ve never been so close, in the past seven months, to the election of a president,” said Tueni, before hastily adding, “but that does not mean that we will have a president.”

 

Both anti and pro-Syrian sides have agreed to appoint Lebanese army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman, a Maronite Christian and one the few unifying figures in an increasingly sectarian country, as president. Under Lebanon’s constitution, the presidential post is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

 

The devil however, lies in the details – namely whether the election of a new president should or should not precede discussions on a new cabinet and a new parliamentary election law.

Date created : 2008-05-17

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