Lebanon mediation fails, fear of escalation

Turkey and Qatar abandoned on Thursday efforts to break the deadlock between rival parties in Lebanon's political crisis, a day after Saudi Arabia also threw in the towel, raising fears of an escalation.

After two days of intensive talks, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar, Ahmet Davutoglu and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani, said they were suspending the negotiations.

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it was giving up its efforts to mediate and warned of a dangerous situation that could lead to the partitioning of the multi-confessional country.

The Turkish and Qatari officials said overnight they were leaving Beirut after meeting with the various parties because of reservations over a draft agreement they had submitted.

Our "efforts resulted in a working draft that takes into account political and legal demands to resolve the current crisis in Lebanon based on the Syrian-Saudi initiative," they said in a statement.

"But given certain reservations, (we) decided to suspend efforts in Lebanon for the time being and to leave Beirut in order to consult with (our) leadership," added the statement, which did not elaborate.

The Syrian-Saudi initiative reportedly calls for Lebanon to disavow a UN tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri, the father of current caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In exchange, the Shiite party and militant group Hezbollah would provide guarantees concerning its weapons arsenal.

It also calls for guarantees concerning the functioning of state institutions.

Political sources say the working draft was submitted to Hezbollah overnight, but party officials contacted by AFP on Thursday refused to comment.

Saad Hariri, whose government collapsed last week because of a dispute with the powerful Hezbollah over the UN probe, was to address the nation later on Wednesday to explain the latest developments.

Atef Majdalani, an MP with Hariri's parliamentary majority, said he believes the failure to reach compromise indicates Hezbollah planned to use its weapons to impose its agenda.

"As far as I am concerned, what is happening means that Hezbollah has decided to resort to military action and to pursue the coup it launched by withdrawing its ministers from the government last week," Majdalani told AFP.

"But any such action would mark the beginning of the end of Hezbollah."

Lebanon is mired in a deep crisis over a dispute between the US- and Saudi-backed Hariri and Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah over the UN probe.

On Monday, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon submitted a sealed indictment in the case, which is now being reviewed by a judge.

Hezbollah has said it expects party members to be among those indicted by the tribunal, which it accuses of being part of a US-Israeli plot.

The party, the most powerful military force in Lebanon, prompted the collapse of Hariri's government last week because of the dispute.

Acting energy minister Gebran Bassil, who was among 11 ministers who quit the government, said Lebanon faced two choices.
"Either the Lebanese fight each other or they confront the world together as concerns the tribunal," he told local television.

The crisis has prompted fears of Sunni-Shiite violence similar to that which brought the country close to a new civil war in 2008.

Consultations on forming a new government were set to begin on Monday but were delayed for a week given the deep divisions.

Meanwhile, tribunal prosecutor Daniel Bellemare expressed concern at the broadcast on Lebanese television of secret investigative material.

He was "exploring all possible avenues ... to determine how this confidential information came into the public domain and to prevent any further unauthorised disclosure," his office said in an online statement.
 

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