francois hajj 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel is becoming increasingly concerned with the deadlock in Lebanon over the election of a new president and the possibility that Hizbullah will gain a third of the seats in the cabinet, granting it the power to veto major government decisions.
On Monday, the Lebanese parliament is scheduled to meet in yet another effort to choose a president. The session, however, is not expected to lead to the election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman, who has won backing for the post from both the anti-Syrian legislative majority and the opposition led by Hizbullah, since the parliament must first pass a constitutional amendment that allows the head of the army to become president.
The amendment is the center of the latest political fight gripping Lebanon, as the majority and the opposition camps have traded sharp accusations in the recent days.
On Friday, Maj.-Gen. Francois Hajj, the Lebanese deputy chief of staff, was buried; he was killed on Wednesday in a car bombing.
Israeli intelligence assessments are that Hajj was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists in retaliation for having commanded Lebanese forces that battled the Fatah al-Islam al-Qaida-inspired group in the Nahr al Badr refugee camp last summer. Others say he was killed by Hizbullah or another pro-Syrian group.
Israeli concerns are that the March 14 opposition group, led by Saad Hariri - son of assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri - will lose control of the government under a new compromise that would give Hizbullah a third of the seats in the cabinet. Hizbullah has called for negotiations not only to focus on electing a new president but to include the division of the posts of a new government.
In November 2006, Hizbullah ministers pulled out of the cabinet after Prime Minister Fuad Saniora refused to give the Shi'ite terrorist group and its allies veto power, which could be used to shoot down government initiatives, including the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate to operate in southern Lebanon.
On Saturday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch made a surprise visit to Beirut for talks with leaders in an attempt to end the political deadlock and pave the way for the election of a president. The post has been empty since November 23, when pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud left office without a successor being chosen.
"It is the belief of the United States that it's time now for Lebanon to elect its next president. This will restore dignity and respect to the most important Christian office" in Lebanon, Welch said in a statement after his meeting with Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the head of the influential Christian Maronite community.
Under Lebanon's sectarian-based political system, the president hails from the Maronite community, the largest sect among minority Christians.
Welch later met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi'ite, and reiterated his calls for electing a president, saying "there is no reason for any further delay."
AP contributed to this report.
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