Musa begins fresh mediation between rival Lebanese factions

news3.jpgBEIRUT (AP) — Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa began a new round of talks with rival Lebanese factions on Tuesday to resolve growing political and sectarian tensions that are threatening to tear the country apart.

His visit, the second to Beirut in less than a week, comes amid plans by the Hizbollah-led opposition to escalate its open-ended street protests against the government of US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Musa went straight for a meeting with Siniora shortly after he flew in from Cairo late Tuesday.

Siniora has been holed up at his office complex in central Beirut amid a tight security cordon since thousands of Hizbollah supporters and Syrian-backed allies began camping and staging mass protests in front of his office earlier this month.

No details of Musa’s discussions with Siniora were disclosed but the Arab League chief said he was satisfied with the talks.

“The talks were very good,” Musa told reporters after the two-hour meeting with Siniora.

The Arab League chief later met with Berri, a Hizbollah ally. He refused to speak to reporters after the meeting that lasted more than an hour.

Lebanon’s political crisis sharpened after six Cabinet ministers from the Hizbollah-led opposition resigned and the group ordered thousands of supporters to stage mass protests in front of the government compound.

The Syrian and Iranian-backed Hizbollah and its allies are demanding a national unity government which would give them veto power over major government decisions.

However, Siniora and his anti-Syrian supporters reject Hizbollah’s demands, calling the campaign and the ongoing protests since December 1 a Syria-backed coup.

Musa stated again Tuesday that he aimed to promote a compromise based on a “no victor, no vanquished” formula.

He said his talks with rival factions would resume in the next two days.

“I still hold the view that there is hope and there are points on which we can make progress because all [parties] feel the danger facing Lebanon,” he told reporters at Beirut airport before meeting with Siniora.

Musa said he planned to visit Syria this week and was in contact with other Arab countries to seek their assistance in solving the Lebanese crisis.

All Arab nations are “concerned and worried” about the situation in Lebanon and support the Arab League’s efforts to break the deadlock, he said.

Musa held talks in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah on Sunday and was reported to have urged him to intervene to help solve the Lebanese crisis.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal urged the Lebanese Tuesday to seek dialogue and national unity, and expressed the kingdom’s support for the Arab League initiative to solve the Lebanon crisis.

On the eve of Musa’s visit to Beirut, Hizbollah and its Syrian-backed allies warned that they would step up their protests if the Arab League mediation failed to meet the opposition’s demand for a national unity government.

“This situation cannot continue. There will be an escalation,” pro-Syrian former prime minister Omar Karami told reporters Monday. He said the opposition would press for early parliamentary elections after the new year’s holiday.

Siniora said Tuesday that the opposition’s threat to form a transitional government that would arrange for early parliamentary elections would be tantamount to “a coup.” “It would be an irrational act,” he said.

After two days of marathon talks in Beirut last week, Musa 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. But the rival factions had failed to bridge other differences that threaten to scuttle the deal.

Lebanon’s political crisis also extends beyond its borders. The United States has accused Iran and Syria of seeking to undermine the Siniora government and stability in the region, while Hizbollah accuses the prime minister of being a Washington puppet.

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