Lebanese talks to tackle thorny issue of Hezbollah arms
Mar 3, 2006, 14:21 GMT
Beirut - Lebanese political leaders were due to resume landmark round-table talks later Friday that were expected to focus on a UN resolution calling for the disarmament of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Fourteen Muslim and Christian politicians met Thursday at the Lebanese parliament in a bid to save Lebanon from its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
'UN resolution 1559 is on the top of the agenda today (Friday) and it will be the issue of a heated debate,' a source close to an anti- Syrian participant in the talks said.
UN resolution 1559, issued in 2004, calls for the disarming of all local and foreign militia on Lebanese territory.
Hezbollah, which spearheaded attacks against Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, was instrumental in forcing the Jewish state to withdraw from the area after 22 years of occupation.
Pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, who was not invited to the talks and whose resignation is being called by anti-Syrian lawmakers, welcomed the dialogue but issued a strong warning against foreign pressure to disarm Hezbollah.
'Calls by foreign powers to disarm the resistance only serve Israel's interests and weaken Lebanon,' Lahoud, who strongly backs Hezbollah, said in a statement.
'Any attempt to disarm Hezbollah by force would certainly lead to a another civil war,' Lahoud added.
The crisis in the country erupted a year ago when former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 20 others were assassinated in a car bomb in a seafront area of Beirut.
The Lebanese anti-Syrian camp have accused Lebanese and Syrian intelligence agencies of responsibility for his killing.
Thursday's talks were described as positive, with agreement among participants on the position taken by the government of Prime Minister Foaud Seniora towards the UN investigation into Hariri's murder, including the request for an international tribunal of investigation.
The two Lebanese pro-Syrian movements Amal and Hezbollah have objected in the past to the establishment of a court with an international character.
'The discussions are being carried out in a frank and serious manner, and subjects which in the past had been considered taboo, were dealt with openly and directly, like the issue of disarming Hezbollah,' a source close to the talks told Deutsche Press-Agentur dpa.
Another anti-Syrian deputy, Wael Abu Faour, a Druze, said, 'We can say there was a breakthrough in the issue of the president because none of the participating political parties that are close to Lahoud defended him during the dialogue.'
Some of the participants who have sided with Lahoud in the past emphasized the need for 'a constitutional or peaceful solution for the departure of the president and not the street,' a government source said.
On February 14, the main anti-Syrian alliance which controls parliament and heads the governing coalition, gave Lahoud until March 14 to step down.
The same bloc also launched a petition both in the legislature and across the country with the goal of securing one million signatures of support.
On the thorny issue of Hezbollah's disarmament, some participants believe that the Shiite group should lay down arms and stick to politics. They say Hezbollah should hand over security along the border with Israel to the Lebanese army.
Others feel that Hezbollah should remain in southern Lebanon until the disputed area of Shebaa is liberated.
Israel captured Shebaa Farms from Syria in the 1967 Six Days War. Lebanon is claiming today, with Syria's consent, that Shebaa is Lebanese.
Hussam Itani, a political commentator with the daily newspaper As Safir said: 'Any change in Lebanon's stance on Hezbollah's arms would mean that the country's stance has changed toward the Arab-Israel conflict. Whether the Lebanese like or not, Lebanon is part of the conflict.'
Sahar Baasiri of the daily An Nahar called on the parties at the talks to put the interest of the country above all other interests and keep the dialogue free of external influences, in a reference to Hezbollah's ties with Syria and Iran.
Christian deputy Nassib Lahoud described the talks being held 'without foreign guardianship' as a 'landmark event.'
Lahoud was referring to previous conferences during the Lebanese civil war which were held outside Lebanon at Lausanne in Geneva and Taif in Saudi Arabia. The Taif accord of 1989 ended the war.
Hariri's assassination sparked massive street protests that forced Syria to end a 29-year military presence in Lebanon last year and swept an anti-Syrian coalition to election victory.
'The dialogue lays the foundation for a new period because we are moving from a period of occupation and hegemony to one of independence and it is necessary to agree on the next period,' former president Ameen Gemayel, a participant in the dialogue, told dpa.
2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur