01/04/2007, 00.00
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Maronite bishops say new solutions needed to end crisis

by Paul Dakiki
According to the bishops, the “main malady” of the country is the clash over the formation of an international court. Hezbollah representatives have met the Saudi king. The Shia Higher Council has called for a return to dialogue.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Another solution should be sought for the formation of a Lebanese government other than the option of a “national unity” executive that has been discussed uselessly for months. Meanwhile, the opposition protest that has blocked the heart of Beirut since early December has provoked an “economic catastrophe” in a country already sorely tried by war. This was the gist of a new urgent statement by the Maronite Bishops. After their monthly meeting, they issued a communiqué saying that the real crux of the Lebanese crisis was the formation of an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of the ex-premier Rafic Hariri. They exhorted the Lebanese to identify resolutions to their problems “from inside”.


At the moment, political attention is focused on yesterday’s visit to Beirut by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who seemed to want to try his hand at mediation. Then there is the news published in the daily al-Akhbar and not denied, of a visit by two Hezbollah representatives to Saudi Arabia. Number two of the Party of God, Naim Kassem, and the ex-minister Mohammed Fneich are said to have met King Abdullah. This unprecedented meeting is said to have taken place on 26 December and was not reported by official Saudi sources. However the meeting between a group supported by Shiite Iran and a historic ally – perhaps the main one in the Arab world – of Sunni Lebanese, did not yield concrete results, at least in the here and now, other than “affirmations of availability”.


As for Erdogan, during his visit he met the President of Republic, Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. The Lebanese L’Orient Le Jour said he sought to maintain an equal distance from all parties but the Turkish Zaman quoted his words, including descriptions of Siniora as “my friend” and “my dear friend”.


Overall, a stalemate prevails in the national scenario and this is what prompted the intervention of the Maronite episcopate. Meeting in Bkerke under the chairmanship of Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, the bishops said: “It seems that initiatives launched by Lebanese figures and foreign envoys will not see the light of day because they include difficulties that are hard to overcome… The international tribunal seems to be the main malady plaguing the country... There are parties that insist on establishing the court to put an end to the string of assassinations that are killing Lebanon's best men, while others, most of them non-Lebanese, want to hamper the creation of the court for fear of discovering a truth that might harm their interests.”


The bishops said the prevalent instability could put off those countries disposed to help Lebanon just as a meeting of donor countries is drawing near – it is set for 25 January in Paris. “This is why an initiative of salvation should come from the inside rather than outside, because as the proverb says, ‘no one can help you better than yourself’. The paralysis of constitutional institutions, especially the presidency, the Cabinet and Parliament that are accusing each other of being unconstitutional, makes it necessary to resort to another solution” to “rebuild an authority that will save Lebanon”.


The role that religious authorities could play in resolving the Lebanese crisis was underlined by the Shia Higher Council, which said it was in favour of the resumption of dialogue. At the end of a meeting he chaired, Sheikh Abdel Amir Kabalan said the crisis “is political and should not have religious repercussions”. While maintaining that a national unity government and the formation of the international court were necessary to overcome the crisis, the Shia Higher Council called for a “return to the negotiating table” and “rejection of all guardianship and interference from wherever they may come”. The council qualified its support for an international court, saying its statute should be established by “common agreement” as requested by the opposition.

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