Dialogue Proposals Ease Tensions over Syrian Military Presence in Lebanon
Tension between supporters and opponents of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon eased a notch on Friday, the 26th anniversary of the start of the 15-year civil war, amid moves towards a dialogue, said reports.
Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud had talks with Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, a critic of Syrian domination in Lebanon, late Thursday and is due to meet Maronite Christian patriarch cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who wants the Syrian troops out, on Sunday, said AFP.
Sources close to Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party described Thursday's talks as "excellent," saying the Druze leader had asked the head of state to sponsor a dialogue between the various factions.
Lahoud reportedly replied that he was prepared to launch such a dialogue but he refused to act under "pressure from the street," referring to demonstrations by supporters of both camps, according to the agency.
He also said he would not raise the question with Damascus as long as certain Lebanese continued to display hostility towards Syria, the sources said.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, meanwhile, said following Thursday's talks that dialogue was the only way to reduce the "extreme tension" the debate had roused in the country.
Maronite bishops, led by Sfeir, broached the previously taboo subject in September, four months after Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon, saying it was time the 35,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon thought about packing their bags.
The return of Sfeir last month from a six-week tour of North America, when he repeatedly called for a Syrian withdrawal, to a welcome by 100,000 supporters fuelled the tension.
Sfeir's actions angered Lebanon's pro-Syrian Muslim communities, eliciting harsh words from Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the Shiite Hizbollah movement, and Sunni Mufti, Mohammad Kabbani.
The row threatened to degenerate into violence when Christian groups called for a demonstration in Beirut this week to mark the beginning and the end of the civil war.
Muslim groups threatened to react with violence, and the Christian demonstration was called off. The government meanwhile banned all protests.
Meanwhile, the Daily Star newspaper reported Saturday that former foreign minister Fouad Butros met Sfeir this week to present him with a draft blueprint for a rapprochement with Syria sponsored by Lahoud.
Butros has declined to reveal details about his six-month-long efforts.
Sfeir asserted that politics were closely linked to the economy, adding that the people's interests should be preserved, the paper said.
"Local workers should be protected, as well as agricultural and industrial production," the patriarch said. "Illegal competition should be stopped, and borders protected," Sfeir was quoted as saying.
Sfeir also stressed the need to hold politicians and officials accountable for their actions.
"Interference in the administration, the judicial system and public sector employment should be stopped," he said. "Officials should feel they are responsible to the Lebanese people only." - Albawaba.com
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