Fresh hopes for Lebanon cabinet formation

Photo: Fresh hopes for Lebanon cabinet formation / Arab World

After talks to end a 10-month political crisis in Lebanon and appoint a new government were once again stalled on Friday, late-night talks between officials have revived hopes for the country Al Arabiya reported.

On Friday, all appeared ready for prime minister-designate Tammam Salam to announce a new cabinet, which Lebanon has been without since Salam's appointment in April last year. The absence of a new cabinet has been plagued by deep divisions between Hezbollah and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Sunni-led bloc over the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Even after journalists had been called for a press conference to announce the new cabinet, another complication surfaced over the interior ministry portfolio just as Salam prepared to go to the presidential palace, sources on both sides told Agence France-Presse.

The dispute over the interior ministry portfolio was between the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the Future Movement.

But talks "between the rival political factions late Friday night focused on naming a more moderate Future Movement candidate for the interior ministry," the Daily Star Lebanon reported.

Hariri announced on Jan. 21 that his bloc was prepared to join a government of national unity with Hezbollah and its allies, despite its strong opposition to the group's military intervention in Syria.

Hariri's camp "proposed two names, which were rejected by Hezbollah," a source said.

One of those named was retired general Ashraf Rifi, influential ex-chief of Lebanon's police force and opponent of Hezbollah. The second was MP Jamal Jarrah, a member of the Hariri-led Future movement, who has been accused by Hezbollah and Damascus of sending weapons to Syrian rebels.

"A final agreement on a substitute for Rifi in the interior ministry could pave the way for an imminent formation of a new Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup," the Daily Star reported, citing political sources.

Among candidates for the interior ministry post are Future MPs Nuhaq Mashnouq and Samir Jisr, the newspaper reported.

Lebanon's prolonged government vacuum has been marred by repeated deadly bomb attacks on Hezbollah strongholds claimed by hardline Sunni groups which support the Syrian rebels.

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