|Berri courts Doha for help with logjam in Beirut
|Moussa stresses determination to find solution despite regional differences
Speaker Nabih Berri continued his efforts to revive Arab mediation in Lebanon's political crisis on Monday, but with the next parliamentary session to elect a president scheduled for a week from today, no breakthroughs look to be in the offing. Berri discussed the situation in Lebanon with Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah al-Atiyah during a visit to Doha on Monday.
Beirut's state-run National News Agency said the talks included Berri's latest initiative to launch dialogue among leaders of Lebanon's various factions.
After meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Sunday, however, the speaker had warned that rival Lebanese parties must play a leading role in resolving the impasse and not rely solely on outside mediators.
"Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia can offer help, but they cannot replace or act on behalf of Lebanese parties," Berri said.
Berri, who flew to Doha from Cairo, was expected to hold further talks with officials in Qatar as part of efforts to work out a settlement.
Also Monday, MP Ali Hassan Khalil of Berri's Development and Liberation bloc said some media outlets have tried to establish a link between Berri's visit to Cairo and talk of forming an interim government headed by the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), General Michel Suleiman, that would see the country through to parliamentary elections in 2009.
"Such talk is unrelated to the truth and is aimed at distorting the success of Berri's visit to Egypt," Khalil said. "It is also aimed at creating sectarian tension and is an attempt to abort Berri's initiative to find a solution through dialogue," he added, referring to the fact that that the premiership is traditionally reserved for a Sunni and Suleiman is a Maronite.
Khalil also reiterated Berri's support for Suleiman's presidential candidacy.
Sources close to Suleiman told the Future News satellite channel on Monday that the LAF chief refused to head "any interim government because this goes against the Constitution."
Future News also carried comments made in London by Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who said he could not "abandon Lebanon," adding that there was no substitute for the Arab initiative, which was agreed on by all parties.
The three-point Arab initiative calls for the election of Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government, and the drafting of a new electoral law.
"We cannot leave Lebanon without a president," he said, stressing the need for a national unity government. He also emphasized "the importance of the relationship between Syria and Lebanon" as part of the Arab initiative, adding that the Arab League summit hosted by Damascus in late March was held "in difficult conditions" in light of unsettled Arab relations.
"The road is long, but we have little time to prevent the deterioration of the Lebanese situation," he warned.
Moussa said Lebanon received the same importance as that given to the Palestinian issue, adding that the situation in Gaza reflected "great unrest."
In other developments, opposition Reform and Change bloc leader and MP Michel Aoun lashed out at Premier Fouad Siniora, holding him responsible for the current deadlock.
"The Lebanese Civil War began under the slogan of injustice, deprivation and lack of participation," Aoun told reporters after Reform and Change's weekly meeting. "I remind the prime minister and the pro-government alliance that the people today feel the same lack of participation, injustice and deprivation."
He reiterated his belief that the government and the US administration supporting it were responsible for the political vacuum in Lebanon today.
Aoun also announced that he had assigned MPs from the Jbeil region to pursue the issue of mass graves, adding that it was "essential" that the fate of missing people throughout Lebanon be determined.
The Internal Security Forces are currently investigating a mass grave found near Jbeil.
"We must open all mass graves for everyone to see their reality," Aoun said.
The MP also said the bloc had received complaints from residents of the southern town of Ain Zhalta saying an Arab investor had purchased a wide area in the region's natural reserve, "which is supposed to be the property of the municipality. We cannot tolerate that."
He also blamed the government for "this dire economic situation," calling for the formation of an interim government.
"As an opposition, we bear some responsibility for the current situation," he acknowledged. "But the largest responsibility lies on the pro-government forces, for US President [George W.] Bush is not responsible for Siniora's errors."
The Daily Star