Arab delegation going to Lebanon to try to broker a settlement
Arab foreign ministers urged warring Lebanese factions to immediately cease fighting and said Sunday they will send a delegation to try to broker a settlement between the Hezbollah-led opposition and U.S.-backed government, AP reported.
Arab League foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Cairo on the Lebanon crisis two days after Iranian-backed Hezbollah took control of most of Muslim west Beirut in a showdown with the government. The fighters withdrew on Saturday.
The Arab League issued a statement at the end of the meeting implicitly criticizing the Shiite militant Hezbollah.
"The ministers reject the principal of resorting to armed violence to achieve political goals," it said.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the delegation would leave for Lebanon soon but did not give a date. No flights have gone into Beirut for four days because Hezbollah supporters have blocked the airport road. Moussa said the delegation would need to make security arrangements with the Lebanese army to go in.
The delegation will be headed by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, an ally of Syria who has good relations with Hezbollah.
Sunni Arab heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who back the Lebanese government, will not be represented on the 10-member delegation. Syria, which supports Hezbollah, was also not included. The three countries are considered too close to the warring parties, Arab diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are deeply suspicious of Hezbollah, accusing it of sidelining Lebanon's Sunni minority and being a proxy for extending Iran's power in the Middle East.
An 18-month political standoff in Lebanon erupted into sectarian clashes over the past five days, the worst violence since the 1975-1990 civil war ended. At least 38 people have been killed.
"What is going on in Lebanon is unacceptable. We are very worried about this," said Moussa, an Egyptian who will be part of the delegation because of his position as Secretary General of the Arab League.
"We might succeed and we might not, but we have to try," Moussa told a news conference after the meeting.
Syria, which currently holds the Arab League presidency, did not send its foreign minister to the meeting. Damascus controlled Lebanon for nearly three decades until 2005 and has said that the dispute should be left to the Lebanese to solve.
On Saturday, Lebanon's anti-Syrian government accused Hezbollah of trying to bring back Syria to Lebanon and asked Arabs for help to end the political deadlock.
The Arab League demanded Shiite gunmen pull out of West Beirut and leave Lebanon's army in charge of security. The gunmen had mostly left the streets by Sunday, a day after the army called on them to clear out.
The ministers issued an "urgent call for an immediate halt of hostilities, a cease-fire and...the withdrawal of all combatants from areas of tension to facilitate the army's duties to maintain security and stop the bloodshed."
The ministers also relaunched a January plan that calls for the immediate election of Lebanese army chief Michel Suleiman as a consensus president, the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law.
Lebanon's sharply divided parliament has failed to elect Suleiman as president because the majority and opposition are deadlocked over the shape of the future government. The majority rejects the opposition's demand for veto power in the government.
Moussa said the Arab League may modify its January initiative because of the new security situation on the ground.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia's suspicions about Hezbollah have been fueled by increasing Iranian influence in the Middle East after Saddam Hussein's ouster in Iraq and the rise of a Shiite-dominated regime there. Iran is the largest Shiite country.
In March, Egyptian and Saudi leaders boycotted an annual Arab summit in Damascus and instead sent low-level officials to protest Syrian policies in Lebanon and other parts of the Mideast.