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Diplomats renew effort to calm Beirut

Efforts to re-launch an Arab League initiative to break the current political deadlock in Lebanon continued on Monday, in the face of renewed bickering among the country's leaders.

On the regional front, contacts between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a possible breakthrough in the political crisis have yet to bear fruit.

According to Lebanon's Central News Agency, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is to return to Beirut after attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, which concludes Tuesday.

Internally, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah denied allegations made by Saudi King Abdullah that Iran was trying to convert the region's Muslims to the Shiite sect.

Nasrallah went on to deny accusations that Hizbullah was attempting to impose Iran's will in Lebanon.

"Shiites are not trying to take over the region or convert anyone to anything," said Nasrallah, speaking in a religious ceremony to commemorate Ashoura in Beirut's southern suburbs.

He denied that Hizbullah received "its orders from Iran" and said "we are against any Safavid project in the region or any project that would lead to strife between Muslims."

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said on Monday that contacts were being established with opposition leader MP Michel Aoun, "because it is necessary to forget about the past and look to the future."

Speaking following a visit to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki, Geagea warned that if the opposition forces "continue on the same path the situation will deteriorate drastically."

Geagea said he would "work to keep the Christian areas neutral," stressing the need to return relations between politicians to the way they were before "Black Tuesday."

Last Tuesday, the Hizbullah-led opposition held a general strike that deteriorated into armed clashes in the street in which three people were killed.

Geagea also called on the opposition to remove their tents from the Downtown area, where they have been camped since December 1 in an ongoing campaign for a greater role in government.

"No solution can be reached except through democratic means," Geagea said.

Elsewhere, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt accused the opposition of trying to "destroy Lebanon and annihilate its political foundation and democratic system."

In a statement on Monday, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party said that Hizbullah and its allies were "inciting internal strife and while they claim to support the concept of the state, they send armed gangs into the streets."

"The opposition does not support the concept of the state because it aborts their own private state, which they built over the past years, and has its own weapons, arms caches, armed forces, financing, institutions and media," Jumblatt said.

"The rise of the Lebanese state will hamper their own state," the Chouf MP added. "From this point we now understand the reasons behind their tense pronouncements and the reason behind the constant incitements they practice and why they resigned from the government and why they forced a general strike on the Lebanese people on Black Tuesday in a coup d'etat plot to change the face of the country."

The comments came as a flurry of diplomatic activity sought to bridge the current political divide.

Following a visit to Speaker Nabih Berri, British Ambassador Frances Guy said the situation in Lebanon remains "very complicated."

Guy expressed her government's concern over recent events in Lebanon and said she had asked Berri what cause he has for optimism.

"He told me of some discussions he has had that have given him some hope for a resolution to the crisis," she said.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Bukin, following a visit to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, stressed the need "to restart dialogue" and reach an accord among all Lebanese, and stressed his country's support for all initiatives aimed at reaching a solution to the crisis.

"We feel there is no alternative to building bridges between the Lebanese groups, primarily through the efforts of the Lebanese themselves. It is urgent now to find a formula that would be agreeable to all in order to begin the inter-Lebanese dialogue, while focusing external efforts on helping the Lebanese continue with such dialogue," Bukin said.

The Russian envoy said his country supports all Arab and international initiatives, including the efforts of Moussa.

Sudanese Ambassador Jamaleddine Mohammad Ibrahim visited President Emile Lahoud on Monday and delivered a letter from Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. In the letter Bashir said he was exerting all efforts, as the current president of the Arab Summit, to settle a number of pressing issues in the Arab world, including that of Lebanon.

In his meeting with Ibrahim, Lahoud made it clear that any solution to the political crisis should be "made in Lebanon."

Former President Amin Gemayel commended a Saudi effort aimed at finding a solution to the crisis based on an initiative supported by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Gemayel said most efforts are being conducted behind the scenes only to protect the process and achieve the desired results.

"Saudi Arabia was always by Lebanon's side; history will remember the kingdom's role in hosting the Taif conference. We only hope Saudi Arabia is successful in its efforts, which can only happen if the Lebanese meet that initiative and do their duty to find a way out of the current crisis," Gemayel said, speaking at a meeting of his Phalange Party's central council.

Meanwhile, March 14 Forces MP Wael Bou Faour stressed the importance of avoiding a war of accusations, "which do not help to relieve tensions in the country but contribute to increasing them."

Bou Faour, speaking on Voice of Lebanon radio station, was referring to comments by Nasrallah, in which the Hizbullah leader claimed that protesters on Thursday were ambushed by pro-government forces with the intention of dragging the country down the road to civil strife.

Bou Faour said Hizbullah had for the past couple of days been throwing around accusations that had reached their peak with Nasrallah's speech.

"Those who have actually set an ambush for Hizbullah are the Syrians and I fear that Hizbullah is the latest casualty of this regime," Bou Faour said.

Beirut 30-01-2007
Redaction
The Daily Star



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