Moussa cautious on progress in Lebanon crisis

Arab League chief urges Lebanese leaders to avoid triggering further escalation of current tensions.

Amr Moussa 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Amr Moussa 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The head of the Arab League on Saturday said efforts to reach a solution to Lebanon's political crisis have not succeeded but did not rule out future negotiations among rival factions. Amr Moussa also urged rival Lebanese leaders to avoid triggering further escalation of the tension and warned that Lebanon was at "a dangerous crossroads." "I leave to the factions in Lebanon a table full of proposals to find a solution to the crisis," Moussa told reporters in the capital, Beirut, after four days of talks with allies aligned with the militant group Hizbullah and the US-backed government. "I can't say that we have succeeded, but also we did not fail," he said. Moussa said the Arab League initiative had produced "a framework for understanding on sticking points." "Therefore, solutions are there and the road is clear," he said, urging rival factions to resume talks. Tensions among rival groups erupted when six pro-Hizbullah Cabinet ministers resigned last month after Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora rejected their demand for a new national unity government. Hizbullah's supporters have been staging massive protests and ongoing sit-ins in downtown Beirut, a few meters from Saniora's office, as part of their effort to force him to resign, but the Western-backed premier has refused to step down. The Syrian and Iranian-backed Hizbullah and its allies are demanding a national unity government which would give them veto power over major government decisions. Shortly after Moussa left Beirut for Cairo, hundreds of veiled Shiite Muslim women and other Hizbullah's supporters, shouted, "Saniora, get out." They waved Lebanese flags as they stood in front of layers of barbed wires and barricades manned by soldiers a few meters from Saniora's office. Though the Arab League secretary-general did not blame either side for not reaching a solution, he urged all parties to remain calm and said he may return to Beirut for more talks after New Year's. Moussa stressed that the absence of contacts between pro- and anti-Syrian Lebanese factions was hindering an end to growing political and sectarian tensions that are threatening to tear the country apart. "Contacts among various leaders are nonexistent, something that makes reaching an understanding very difficult," he said. Ahead of Moussa's visit, Hizbullah and its allies warned that they would press for early parliamentary elections after the New Year's holiday if the Arab League mediation failed to meet the opposition's demand for a national unity government that would give them Cabinet veto power on key decisions. After two days of marathon talks in Beirut last week, Moussa managed to get pro-government and opposition parties to agree on the outlines of a national unity Cabinet in which major decisions could be taken only by consensus. He also said the two sides agreed to the creation of an independent committee to study an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many blame Syria for Hariri's assassination, but Damascus has denied the charge. Moussa said after visiting Syria on Thursday that he received support from President Bashar Assad for the Arab mediation efforts. He also said he also received support from the Saudi and Egyptian governments, as well as other Arab leaders. Iran has also backed Moussa's initiative.