Arab League mediators arrive in Beirut

An Arab League delegation attempts to find a solution to Lebanon's current crisis as US President George Bush accused Iran of using Hezbollah to destabilise the country. Lucie Fielder reports from Beirut.


BEIRUT, May 14 (Reuters) - Lebanon's cabinet was expected on Wednesday to cancel measures it took against Hezbollah that triggered fighting during which the Iranian-backed movement briefly took over parts of Beirut, political sources said.

"You can say it's a done deal, but we're waiting for the cabinet meeting," one political source said. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is supported by the United States, was due to hold a cabinet meeting at 1530 GMT.

Rescinding a ban on Hezbollah's communications network and the sacking of Beirut airport's security chief, who is close to the group, is one of Hezbollah's demands to lift its blockade of the airport and its campaign of civil disobedience.

It would also be a first step towards easing a broader 18-month-long standoff between the anti-Syrian cabinet and opposition forces backed by Damascus that has left Lebanon without a president since November.

At least 81 people have been killed since violence broke out on May 7 following the cabinet decisions against Hezbollah. The clashes were the worst spate of violence among Lebanese since the country's 1975-90 civil war.

U.S. President George W. Bush accused Iran on Wednesday of using Hezbollah to destabilise Lebanon.

He said in Jerusalem: "This is an Iranian effort to destabilise their young democracy." He said the United States stood by Lebanon.

Siniora earlier met a high-level Arab League mission which is trying to mediate a solution to the standoff.

The delegation, which includes eight Arab foreign ministers, was led by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani and Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

"Everything is fine," Siniora said after meeting the Arab ministers, but gave no details.

"The general direction of the Lebanese government is ... to put civil peace above all else, including the latest (cabinet) decisions," Wael Abu Faour, a parliamentarian in the ruling coalition, told Reuters.

If it succeeds in easing tension, the delegation is expected to invite the rival leaders to Qatar for talks aimed at resolving their protracted political conflict.

The broader political dispute revolves around how to share power in cabinet and a new parliamentary election law.

Another political source, speaking before the talks, said the pro-government leaders wanted guarantees Hezbollah would pull out of the streets and vow not to use its guns against its foes before any dialogue.

The recent fighting raised concerns Lebanon was edging towards wider civil strife among Druze and Sunni supporters of the governing coalition and Shi'ites who back Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia, also a backer of the governing coalition, has said Hezbollah's actions, if backed by Iran, could threaten Tehran's ties with Arab states. Iran has blamed the United States for the violence in Lebanon.

Governing coalition leader Saad al-Hariri, Lebanon's most powerful Sunni politician, said on Tuesday there would be no political surrender to what he called an attempt by Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers to impose their will.

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