Lebanon set to cancel anti-Hezbollah measures

r10.jpgBEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s cabinet is likely to cancel measures on Wednesday that angered the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement and triggered the worst internal conflict since the country’s civil war, political sources said.

“You can say it’s a done deal, but we’re waiting for the cabinet meeting,” one political source said shortly before Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is supported by the United States, convened his ministers for talks at 11:30 a.m. EDT.

Rescinding a ban on Hezbollah’s communications network and the sacking of Beirut airport’s security chief, who is close to the group, is one of Hezbollah’s demands to lift its blockade of the airport and its campaign of civil disobedience.

It would also be a first step towards easing a broader 18-month-long standoff between Siniora’s government and opposition forces that has left Lebanon without a president since November.

At least 81 people have been killed since violence broke out on May 7 following the cabinet decisions against Hezbollah, which routed its rivals in six days of fighting and briefly seized control of parts of Beirut.

U.S. President George W. Bush, in Jerusalem to celebrate the anniversary of Israel’s founding in 1948, accused Iran on Wednesday of using the Islamist Shi’ite Hezbollah to destabilize Lebanon. He said: “This is an Iranian effort to destabilize their young democracy.”

He said the United States stood by Lebanon, a parliamentary democracy since independence from France in 1943.

Iran has rejected accusations from Washington that it is meddling in Lebanon and has blamed the violence on the United States and Israel. “Iran is the only country not interfering in Lebanon,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.

ARAB MEDIATORS

Siniora earlier met a high-level Arab League mission which is trying to mediate a solution to Lebanon’s standoff.

The delegation, which includes eight Arab foreign ministers, was led by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani and Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

“The general direction of the Lebanese government is … to put civil peace above all else, including the latest (cabinet) decisions,” Wael Abu Faour, a parliamentarian in the ruling coalition, told Reuters after Siniora met the Arab mediators.

Lebanon has been largely calm for two days and Hezbollah activists removed some roadblocks on the airport road on Wednesday to give the Arab mediators passage to the city.

In what they described as a reciprocal move, pro-government Sunni forces partially lifted their border blockade on the main road link between Beirut and Damascus.

Syria, which backs the Hezbollah-led opposition, threw its weight behind the mediation effort on Wednesday. A foreign ministry statement in Damascus urged all Lebanese parties to cooperate constructively with its proposals.

If it succeeds in easing tension, the delegation is expected to invite the rival leaders to Qatar for talks aimed at resolving their protracted political conflict.

The broader political dispute revolves around how to share power in cabinet and a new parliamentary election law.

Another political source, speaking before the talks, said the pro-government leaders wanted guarantees Hezbollah would pull out of the streets and vow not to use its guns against its foes before any dialogue.

The recent fighting raised concerns Lebanon was edging towards wider civil strife among Druze and Sunni supporters of the governing coalition and Shi’ites who back Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia, a backer of the governing coalition, has said Hezbollah’s actions, if backed by Iran, could threaten Tehran’s ties with Arab states. Iran has blamed the United States for the violence in Lebanon.

Governing coalition leader Saad al-Hariri, Lebanon’s most powerful Sunni politician, said on Tuesday there would be no political surrender to what he called an attempt by Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian backers to impose their will.

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