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French Version

Dialogue to resume in Doha under Arab League watch

Washington pours cold water on agreement between opposition, government

Leaders of Lebanon's opposition and pro-government parties will head to Doha on Friday to hold talks aimed at defusing a long-running feud between rival political factions, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said Thursday.

During a news conference in Beirut, Sheikh Hamad also unveiled a six-point agreement between the opposition and the ruling coalition to head to Doha for Arab-sponsored talks on forming a national unity government and drafting a new electoral law for the 2009 parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Thursday voiced his backing for the Arab-brokered agreement and said that he would take part in the Doha talks.

Late on Thursday, the US voiced its reservation on the deal as State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the agreement was unlikely to solve the complicated problems of Lebanon's political system.

McCormack also accused Hizbullah of posing a threat to democracy in Lebanon.

"Hizbullah is ready to kill other Lebanese in order to achieve its goals," he said.

Under Thursday's deal, the rivals agreed to launch a dialogue "to enhance the authority of the Lebanese state throughout the country," to refrain from using weapons to further political aims and to remove armed members from the streets.

It also called for the removal of all roadblocks that have paralyzed air traffic and closed major highways, and for politicians to refrain from using language that could incite violence.

Thursday's announcement said the dialogue would be crowned by ending the opposition's 18 month-old sit-in in Downtown Beirut on the eve of electing the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president.

Sheikh Hamad said the talks leading to the election of Suleiman would take no more than a few days.

Asked what effect the strained relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia would have on implementing the agreement, Sheikh Hamad said that both Riyadh and Damascus were backing the Arab-brokered deal.

The feuding factions reached the deal one day after the government reversed measures aimed at pressuring Hizbullah.

In return, the opposition removed a roadblock that had shut down the country's international airport for a week.

Immediately after the deal was announced, bulldozers and opposition supporters began clearing roadblocks along the road to the airport and other arteries around the capital.

Hopes of a consensus were raised after the government, in a major climb down on Wednesday, canceled controversial measures against Hizbullah that had triggered the latest unrest which left at least 65 people dead and 200 wounded.

The government rescinded plans to probe a private Hizbullah communications network and the sacking the head of airport security Brigadier General Wafiq Shoucair.

Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, speaking at the same news conference, said that May 15 represents an important step forward on the Lebanese political scene because of the success toward re-launching dialogue and a return to normal life.

Earlier on Thursday, the delegation rounded up its meetings with different rival leaders by meeting Hizbullah's second-in-command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Qassem told reporters after the meeting that Hizbullah will "return things" to normal in Lebanon after the government reversed key decisions that had triggered days of bloody conflict.

"The government's reversal of the two decisions is a natural step to return things to the way they were before the two decisions," Qassem said. "We want a political settlement that will lead, in the end, to there being no victor and no vanquished."

The Hizbullah official said the group's arms will always be targeted at Israel, arguing that the internal strife that the group was involved in was triggered by government decisions that were aimed at harming the resistance and serving the interests of the US.

"We hope that such mistakes will not be repeated in the future," he said.

The Saudi reaction included word that officials would soon be conferring with US President George W. Bush, who is scheduled to arrived in the kingdom on Friday as part of his current regional tour, on the evolving situation in Lebanon.

A Saudi official told Agence France Presse that Riyadh would brief Bush on its stance toward "the latest events in Lebanon and current Arab efforts to ward off [sectarian] strife and implement an Arab League plan to resolve the Lebanese crisis" through the election of a consensus president and a power-sharing deal.

Bush has blamed Iran and Syria for last week's outbreak of violence that pitted Hizbullah and its allies against government forces. Syria said that the fighting was prompted by an usurpation of power by the Siniora government, which is strongly supported by Washington.

Plan for reconciliation

The efforts of the Arab League ministerial committee visiting Lebanon proved successful Thursday, with the announcement of a six-point plan to implement the Arab initiative on electing a head of state as well as containing recent clashes throughout Lebanon.

In light of the discussions held by the committee with leaders of the country's feuding political factions, while taking into consideration the Lebanese Constitution and the Taif Agreement, the following agreement has been reached:

1. Things would return to the state they were in prior to the events which occurred after May 5. This should include:

l Welcoming the government's decision to accept the army command's proposal regarding the two decisions related to the airport security apparatus and Hizbullah's telecommunications network.

l The immediate ending of all armed presence and the complete withdrawal of militants from the streets, and opening all roads as well as the Rafik Hariri International Airport and the Beirut seaport.

l Life returning to normal and the Lebanese Armed Forces being responsible for preserving security and ensuring the functioning of public and private institutions.

2. Agreeing on resuming national dialogue between the different leaders and working on building trust between all parties according to the following agenda:

l The formation of a national unity government

l The drafting of a new electoral law for the 2009 elections

The agreement on these two items would be followed by the ending of the sit-in in downtown Beirut on the eve of electing General Michel Suleiman as president.

3. After declaring this agreement and implementing its first item, dialogue would start in Doha on May 16 under the auspices of the Arab League and will not end before reaching a settlement.

4. All parties would commit to not using arms or violence in a bid to achieve political gains.

5. Starting a dialogue on enhancing the authority of the Lebanese state on all Lebanese territory and organizing its relations with the country's different political parties in a way that guarantees the security of the state and the people.

Such dialogue will be launched in Doha and will be resumed under the auspices of the newly elected president and the Arab League.

6. All political leaders would commit to halt mutual accusations of treason and end political and sectarian incitement immediately.

All points of this agreement are equally binding.

Beirut 16-05-2008
The Daily Star

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