Lebanese MP: Hizbullah was smart to halt offense

Lebanese MP says parliament waits to see if Qatar-hosted talks will broker agreement.

shiite gunman beirut 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
shiite gunman beirut 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Beirut was "absolutely quiet" on Sunday, residents said, following Thursday's accord to go to Qatar and negotiate between rival factions. According to the residents, the barricades are gone, the police are back on the streets and the beaches have come alive once again. But as Lebanon's leading politicians negotiated in Doha, Qatar, to resolve the crisis that erupted into days of sectarian violence, uncertainty and unease about the country's future hung heavily in the air back home. "There is relief that the fighting is over; people are back on the streets but with lots of questions about the future as they don't believe that the Doha meeting will produce anything significant," Timur Goksel, the Beirut-based former senior adviser/spokesman of UNIFIL, told journalists Sunday. "Most are afraid that violence with recur," he said. "There are severe economic problems that preoccupy the majority. And the Shi'ite-Sunni rift, which has been under wraps in the country, is now palpable." The Qatar-hosted talks are meant to help the Lebanese form a national unity government and elect a compromise presidential candidate. Lebanon has had no president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud's term ended in November. A member of parliament from an opposition party told The Jerusalem Post all was calm in Beirut, adding: "We are all waiting to see what happens in Doha, to see whether there will be an agreement" between the US-backed government and the Hizbullah-led opposition. The parliamentarian praised Hizbullah for "preserving its power" by knowing when to halt its military battle - which he described as an act of self-defense from recent government moves against the Shi'ite movement - and immediately enter into negotiations with the other factions. "It was a smart move by Hizbullah," he said. "They are stronger now." But a Lebanese journalist affiliated with the Lebanese government argued that Hizbullah overstepped its boundaries by taking over parts of West Beirut earlier this month and should be reined in. "They do not have the right to make war whenever they like," the journalist said. "We are with the Lebanese resistance but we're [opposed to] the resistance in Lebanon making their own state, their own rules, their own armies, their own governments." According to Goksel, who also teaches about the Middle East conflict at a Beirut university, Hizbullah has been strengthened in domestic politics "but has been considerably weakened in its relations with other major sects," such as the Sunnis, Druse and even the Christians "by crossing what has been sacrosanct red lines of not violating the others' turfs and symbols." Hizbullah's relations with the Lebanese Army has also "somewhat soured" as some officers - particularly non-Shi'ite ones - feel the army has lost considerable prestige in recent days. Goksel also told reporters he is worried about the absence of Saudi Arabia and Iran from the conflict resolution process as they are the ones "with true influence of major parties" in Lebanon, where tribalism reigns and interest group privileges are etched in stone. The worst-case scenario, Goksel said, would be if non-Shi'ite groups - out of insecurity - acquired more arms and set up their militias openly, a recipe for militarization that could lead to an "all-out civil war." The best-case scenario, he said, would be for the factions to elect a president, agree on an election system and for Hizbullah to dismantle its "protest city" around the Prime Minister's Office and focus on tackling the economic woes affecting the nation's poor."And as such," he added, "divert attention from the real problems of sharing the spoils of the land." AP contributed to this report.