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French Version

Mediation hits higher gear in bid to calm Beirut crisis

Moussa says efforts are still in early stages, but 'we can save this country'

International and local efforts to contain the rising political tension picked up Monday, after a Shiite protester's death raised fears that anti-government demonstrations could reignite sectarian clashes.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa warned that the crisis could worsen. Speaking during a 24-hour visit to Beirut, Moussa indicated that he had discussed a possible solution with Lebanese officials.

Moussa, who also met with Hizbullah officials, said that "the whole Arab arena can't stand by and watch."

After a visit to pro-opposition President Emile Lahoud, Moussa was asked for details about his efforts to broker a deal, replying: "It is still at the beginning, but I see that it is a start that gives some hope."

"Yes, I am worried about the situation," he told reporters. "However, if we all join hands we can save this country."

In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah urged the Lebanese to "protect national unity."

Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Ilah Khatib became the latest in a string of officials to throw weight behind Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is under pressure from Hizbullah and its allies to resign or to form a national unity government.

"Jordan supports the government of Lebanon and its institutions. Lebanon is going through a delicate period and it is the responsibility of Arab brothers to stand by its side," he told journalists before talks with Siniora.

He later met with Speaker Nabih Berri and then again with Siniora, who in the evening discussed the contacts with his ministers. The meeting was still in progress when The Daily Star went to press.

Khatib also met with former President Amin Gemayel, whose son - Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel - was assassinated on November 21.

Late Sunday night, Gemayel had made a surprise visit to Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. No statements were issued following the meeting, save for comments that Gemayel was informing Nasrallah of a March 14 Forces meeting. After his visit, Gemayel went back to his allies to inform them of his meeting with Nasrallah.

In Damascus, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is on a regional tour, urged Syria to rein in its allies in the Lebanese opposition.

"I call particularly on Syria to do everything in its power to prevent the destabilization of

Lebanon, directly or indirectly," he said after talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said Steinmeier would "deliver a political message" from Siniora to Syria, asking Damascus to "exercise a moderating influence on Hizbullah."

During a stop in Beirut Saturday, Steinmeier urged foreign powers to stay out of Lebanese affairs amid the political crisis.

The Egyptian and Saudi ambassadors to Beirut also met with Lebanese officials.

"There are some ideas that are being discussed ... and the presence of these ideas on its own paves the way for discussions," Egyptian envoy Hussein Darrar said after meeting Berri.

Darrar also met Parliament majority leader Saad Hariri.

The diplomat said he delivered a letter from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Berri, the third since last week, which unveils "serious information about dangers surrounding Lebanon. You should beware of not drifting toward them."

"Chances of reaching a solution are available ... but any miscalculation, right or left, can lead to unfortunate consequences," he told reporters after he met with Hariri.

Saudi Ambassador Abdel Aziz Khoja met with Gemayel. Khoja said his country stands firmly by Lebanon.

The European Union's foreign policy chief also stood by Siniora's government.

"Prime Minister Siniora has done a good job," Javier Solana told reporters. "There is a constitutional government, which came from free elections and is behaving in our opinion in a very positive manner."

Solana also issued a warning that unrest would jeopardize plans to raise international aid for Lebanon at a donor conference planned for mid-January in Paris.

Beirut 05-12-2006
Nada Bakri
The Daily Star

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