Musa says Syria supports Arab initiative on Lebanon

DAMASCUS  (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday gave his full support to Arab League mediation to end the long-running political crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, the head of the Arab League said.

“We are moving toward reaching a Lebanese reconciliation,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa after meeting with Assad. He did not elaborate.

Parties allied to the Syrian-backed Hizbollah have withdrawn from the Lebanese Cabinet and staged daily protests in a bid to force US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to resign from the Lebanese government. But Siniora has refused to step down, accusing the opposition of attempting a Syrian-backed coup.

Musa arrived in the Syrian capital earlier Thursday from Lebanon where he held two days of talks with rival leaders.

His visit to Lebanon was his second in less than a week amid plans by the Hizbollah-led opposition to escalate its open-ended street protests against the Siniora government.

“I feel relieved,” Musa told reporters. “What is important is to salvage the Arab world from the woes of divisions and threats of what we are seeing in the region.” Assad “supports my efforts, the initiative I am making and the efforts of the Arab League in this regard,” Musa said.

Syria’s official news agency said Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem had stressed to Musa his country’s “support to the efforts exerted by the Arab League concerning the situation in Lebanon

He “underlined Syria’s keenness for Lebanon’s stability and security and its support for what the Lebanese might agree on without any foreign interference.” Musa said he also received support from the Saudi and Egyptian governments, as well as other Arab leaders, for his Lebanon initiative.

Iran has also backed Musa’s initiative.

The Lebanese As-Safir daily newspaper reported that Musa also met on Tuesday night with an Iranian foreign ministry envoy who assured the Arab League chief of Tehran’s support for his mediation efforts.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said that he might hold talks with Saudi Arabia on ways to defuse the stalemate between the Lebanese government, which enjoys Saudi support, and the opposition, whose main party — Hizbollah — also is backed by Tehran.

Mottaki also told Al Arabiyya television on Wednesday that he had invited Musa to visit Tehran to discuss Lebanon with Iranian officials.

“We believe [Musa’s efforts]  in Lebanon may lead to a comprehensive reconciliation if all friendly countries would cooperate,” Mottaki told Al Arabiyya.

Over the past week, Musa has managed to get Lebanese pro-government and opposition factions to agree on the outlines of a national unity Cabinet — a key opposition demand — and the creation of an independent committee to study an international tribunal to try the alleged killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Many blame Syria for Hariri’s 2005 assassination, but Damascus has denied the charge and has criticised the direction of the UN investigation into his death.

The two sides also have agreed to other parts of Musa’s initiative including the question of choosing a new president after the current President Emile Lahoud’s term ends next year. They also agreed on part of the initiative’s third phase — devising a new election law.

However, the government has rejected the opposition’s demand for holding early elections based on the new election law.

Musa returned to Lebanon later Thursday. 

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