Talks to choose new Lebanese PM to begin next week

Suleiman says he will start polling lawmakers on their choice; Lieberman on situation: This is an additional example of Hizbullah's extortion.

January 13, 2011 16:41
3 minute read.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri

saad hariri 311. (photo credit: AP)

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman began consultations Thursday over the choice of a new prime minister for the country. He met with parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who told reporters after the meeting that the president would begin polling lawmakers on their choice on Monday.

The Lebanese government collapsed on Wednesday after Hizbullah and its allies pulled out over differences stemming from the UN investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

'Lebanon turmoil unlikely to descend into clash'
Hizbullah topples Lebanese gov't ahead of Hariri findings

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that his party will "calculate our steps" after withdrawing from the Lebanese government, at a meeting of party leaders on earlier on Thursday, Al-Jazeera reported.

Nasrallah explained that his party left the government because the "expected result of the international tribunal for the former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is aimed at the resistance."

Suleiman asked Hariri, as well as other members of his party, to remain in their positions in a transitional government, Lebanese news sources reported on Thursday.

Hizbullah told Suleiman that it will not allow Hariri to continue as prime minister, according to a Thursday report by Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar.

"He is not fit to have this responsibility, as experience has proven," a Hizbullah source told Al-Akhbar.

Another Hizbullah source told Lebanese daily A-Safir that Hariri will not be prime minister anymore "because he is part of the problem, not the solution."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during a visit to Greece on Thursday said that the situation in Lebanon is a test for the nations of the world.

"This is an additional example of the extortion and threats Hizbullah uses on the international community," Lieberman told Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. "Their aim is to prevent the publication of the findings of the international investigation into [former Lebanese prime minister Rafik] Hariri's murder."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement on Thursday, saying she was "concerned by the situation in Lebanon."

"I want to reiterate our support for the Government of National Unity. I call on all political actors to work constructively to seek a negotiated solution to the current situation. Dialogue and stability are essential to respond to today's events in the interest of the Lebanese people."

Also on Thursday, Lebanese Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji, told Qatari newspaper Asharq Alawsat that a civil war will not break out in Lebanon.

"The political leaders won't give that service to Lebanon's enemies, particularly Israel, that work day and night to break up Lebanon's unity and weaken the Lebanese people's spirit," Kahwaji said.

Israeli troops on high alert near Lebanon border

IDF troops in the North were on alert Thursday over worries that the political turmoil in Lebanon might spill over into renewed violence on their shared border.

A senior officer in Israel's northern command said commanders were following events in Lebanon very closely for any sign Hizbullah might try to heat up the already jittery northern border to deflect attention from the political turmoil.

However, although troops have raised their level of alert, reserves have not been called up and no regular troops have been moved north from other areas, the officer said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose military tactics.

Retired general Yaakov Amidror told Army Radio that the prevailing Israeli assessment is that Hizbullah has no interest at this point in a bruising war with Israel. Both the militant group — and more important, Iran — prefer to keep Hizbullah primed to assault Israel in the event Iran is attacked, Amidror said.

But in the current situation, Amidror said he would advise the military to "cast aside all these learned assessments from me and others" because the situation in Lebanon is so unsettled.

"Things are liable to slip out of the hands of decision-makers," he said. "You never know in such a volatile and delicate situation, where everyone has a lot of weapons, a lot of resentment, a lot of frustration — you never know where it could lead."

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