Lebanon factions launch dialogue

Representatives of Lebanon’s many political factions are meeting to begin dialogue on the country’s future.

The talks, chaired by President Michel Suleiman, were agreed as part of a peace deal after gun battles brought Lebanon to the brink of civil war.

Supporters of the pro-Western government were engaged in bitter street fighting with members of the pro-Syrian opposition group Hezbollah.

Sporadic clashes have continued in the hours leading up to the meeting.

The only thing banned here is failure or a reaching a dead-end
President Michel Suleiman

Mr Suleiman and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa addressed the opening session of the national dialogue conference.

“Agreeing to dialogue in and of itself means that all subjects are open to discussion,” Mr Suleiman told the 14 faction leaders gathered for the talks.

“The only thing banned here is failure or reaching a dead-end.”

The participants are the ones who participated in the last round of talks which collapsed in 2006.

They include pro-Syrian parliament speaker and Amal leader Nabih Berri, with allies Muhammad Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc and the Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.

On the pro-Western side are Saad Hariri who heads the Future movement, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, also of Future, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, and the Phalanage party leader Amin Gemayyel.

Groundwork

Separate reconciliation talks were already held on Monday between Hezbollah and Mr Jumblatt, following the assassination in a car bombing of a senior member of a rival Druze party allied with Hezbollah.

Tuesday’s session is expected to lay the groundwork for a series of meetings between the various rival factions, rather than discuss substantive issues.

Early differences have emerged over the list of participants, with Mr Berri likely to suggest inviting more to the table and the Future-led bloc likely to oppose him.

One of the main issues is expected to be the future of weapons held by Hezbollah.

In continuing violence, unidentified gunmen shot dead one person and wounded at least two others in the town of Taalabaya on Monday night, police said.

In June, three people were killed in clashes between Hezbollah and Future movement supporters in the Bekaa valley town and its neighbour Saadnayel, which have mixed Sunni and Shia Muslim communities.

On Sunday night six makeshift bombs exploded in the Corniche al-Mazraa area of central Beirut, causing damage to cars and shops but no casualties.

 

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