Hizbollah sees little chance of early end to crisis

BEIRUT (Reuters) — Lebanon’s Hizbollah-led opposition will decide this week how to press its campaign against the government and sees little chance of an early end to the standoff, the group’s deputy leader said.

Sheikh Naim Kassem said late on Monday the opposition would meet in the next two days to agree on the next steps in its campaign, now focused on a demand for early parliamentary elections. He did not say what the opposition had in mind.

Opposition supporters have been camped out in central Beirut since  December  1 to demand the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora step down. Hizbollah, a group backed by Damascus and Tehran, says the campaign will remain peaceful.

“The opposition forces will sit together and assess what happened in the last month … study ideas proposed in the arena — whether there are horizons for solutions or not,” Kassem said in an interview with Hizbollah’s Manar television station.

“Naturally, it has become clear that the horizons are not very open. Then [the opposition] will take a series of steps, actions,” he said in the interview late on Monday.

Many Lebanese fear the crisis could turn violent. One anti-government protester has already been killed.

The protest has severely disrupted commercial life in downtown Beirut, where roads are closed and troops, armoured vehicles and razor wire protect the government’s headquarters.

The opposition initially called for veto power in Cabinet but has raised its demands to early parliamentary elections.

It has declared as illegitimate Siniora’s government, which came to office following the first parliamentary elections after the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005.

Concerned about tribunal

The anti-Syrian leaders, who control government, say the opposition is effectively trying to stage a coup which would lead to more Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon. Hizbollah says Siniora’s Cabinet answers to the US government.

Kassem accused the government of wrecking an initiative by Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa to end the crisis — Lebanon’s worst since its 1975-1990 civil war.

“The government factions believe time is on their side — that the opposition will tire. We say to them today the opposition will not tire and is staying in the street.

Anti-Syrian leaders say the opposition’s real goal is to derail an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The anti-Syrian coalition believes Syrian-backed opposition groups want to shield Damascus from prosecution. Syria denies involvement in the February 14, 2005 killing — the first in a series of assassinations of anti-Syrian figures.

Kassem said Hizbollah was concerned the tribunal had a political slant that reflected US designs. Washington, which brands Hizbollah a terrorist group, wanted the court formed quickly for its own purposes, he said.

Anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt last week for the first time accused Hizbollah of being behind some of the assassinations, though his allies have not repeated the charge.

Kassem reiterated Hizbollah’s position that it supported the idea of the court but wanted to discuss the details.

“We are scared of politicisation. Therefore we insist on discussion of the articles of the tribunal, one by one,” he said. The tribunal should be approved “in the framework of a legitimate Cabinet and not an illegitimate Cabinet”, he said.

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