Sfeir voices fears that Lebanon crisis will end in armed conflict

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir voiced concern Thursday over the current situation in Lebanon, a day before the arrival of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s top aide in Beirut. “The situation we are going through now is 20071182239490_1_lede.jpg

worse than what it was 30 years ago,” Sfeir told reporters Thursday.

“Some are saying the Lebanese will try to use arms to settle matters, but we have tried that method for several years and it solved nothing,” said Sfeir.

The prelate reiterated the importance of electing a president “who is at an equal distance” from all main political forces and can bring about stability to the country.

“No one can solve our problems better than us,” Sfeir warned just a few hours before a visit by US Ambassador Jeffery Feltman.

“The Lebanese are more worried about their daily concerns than the identities of the next president, ministers or deputies,” he added.

Sfeir’s comments came as  Sarkozy is scheduled to send to Beirut his top aide Claude Gueant, the secretary general of the presidency, along with the technical adviser to the Middle East Bouris Poilon Friday, just a few days after the envoy met with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, Cypriot Foreign Affairs Minister Erato Kozakou Markoullis, on a visit to Beirut to discuss the Lebanese crisis, said after a meeting with Premier Fouad Siniora Thursday: “We support democracy and will help Lebanon in every way we can in the presidential elections.”

Markoullis also met with Speaker and opposition leader Nabih Berri and head of Parliament’s majority MP Saad Hariri.

“We want to play an important role as part of the European Union, which in turn is close to Lebanon,” said Markoullis after meeting Berri.

“We hope that all internal efforts lead to a positive solution,” she added.

Markoullis will be heading to Syria and Egypt over the next few days as part of Cypriot efforts aimed at reconnecting the regional players over the Lebanese crisis.

Hariri meanwhile held his own rounds of meetings late Wednesday night, and met with head of the Lebanese Forces (LF) Samir Geagea and head of the Phalange party former President Amin Gemayel.

Hariri also telephoned the head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun late Wednesday, and the two leaders discussed developments since their last meeting in Paris earlier this month.

Aoun, after reports of an imminent meeting with his staunch rival, declared in a news conference on Thursday, that he had no plans to meet with Geagea.

Geagea had said earlier in the day that he would meet with the FPM leader very soon. “The meeting between the two biggest political Christian entities is something expected under the present circumstances,” Geagea said.

“If world leaders are meeting to discuss the situation in Lebanon, the least we could do is meet among ourselves and seek a solution,” he added.

He added that LF and FPM representatives have already met to set up the meeting.

“We are still waiting for the final details,” he said, adding that the chances of reaching an agreement to resolve the crisis are “between 15 percent and 25 percent.”

However, Aoun denied that plans for a meeting were under way. “I haven’t heard of any. Maybe it is only Geagea’s wish,” the FPM leader said Thursday.

Aoun reiterated that he was not seeking to eliminate anyone’s political role in Lebanon, “yet we will not accept that anyone eliminates our role.”

Aoun also said that most of the polls of Christians have been in his favor. “What kind of democracy refuses to accept people’s choice?” he asked.

In recent interviews, Aoun has been calling for “the people” rather than the politicians to decide on the next president.

In response to a question over the presidential election set for November 12, Aoun said that if an agreement is not reached, the Change and Reform bloc will “not participate in the session.”

Commenting on his meeting with Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman, the FPM leader said that it joined a former and a current army commander.

“Building the army’s capacity is a Lebanese concern,” said Aoun, adding: “Everyone should know that there is a head of the Lebanese Army.”

Suleiman joined in the rounds of meetings taking place in the capital by visiting Siniora, Berri and Aoun on Thursday.

Aoun also met with Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Shibani, who reaffirmed Iran’s support for Lebanon.

“We are optimistic things are moving forward positively … and Iran fully supports the Lebanese reaching a consensus,” Shibani told reporters after meeting with Aoun.

Meanwhile, Hisham Youssef, the Assistant to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, continued his rounds of meetings with officials in Beirut, and met with rival Christian leaders on Thursday in an effort to facilitate a smooth election as he called for “consensus.”

Separately, Gemayel visited Sfeir on Thursday to discuss the upcoming mass to mark the passing of one year since the assassination of the former president’s son, Pierre Gemayel, who was gunned down in November 2006.

“We discussed the importance of having the president elected before November 23, and how this is a historic election, different from all previous presidential polls,” Gemayel told reporters after his meeting with the patriarch.

The Phalange party leader also stressed that the leaders “understand” their responsibilities during this critical time, and that everyone is doing their best to move things forward.

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