Lebanon talks progress, hurdles remain

By Nadim Ladki, Reuters

DOHA — Rival Lebanese leaders made progress towards ending their political crisis on Sunday but disagreements over Hezbollah’s weapons remained a major hurdle to a Qatari-mediated deal.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, weighed in on the third day of talks, meeting separately with members of the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and Hezbollah-led opposition to try to bridge differences that have crippled government, left Lebanon with no president and brought it close to civil war. Delegates said the differences were slowly narrowing over the two key issues on the agenda — the new election law and power-sharing in the government.

But talks may yet stumble over a demand from the governing coalition for clear guarantees that Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, would not turn its guns on them again and that the fate of its arms would be debated in Lebanon soon.

Arab mediators clinched a deal on Thursday to end Lebanon’s worst internal fighting since the 1975-1990 civil war, in which Hezbollah routed supporters of the U.S.-backed government and briefly seized parts of Beirut.

At least 81 people were killed in the violence, which exacerbated sectarian tensions between Shiites loyal to Hezbollah and Druze and Sunni followers of the ruling coalition.

The fate of Hezbollah’s weapons is not on the agenda of the Doha talks but delegates said Arab mediators were consulting on the issue with regional power brokers including Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is a leading supporter of the ruling coalition.

“This issue is not under discussion and is not up for discussion on the table of dialogue in Doha,” said Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan. “They are trying to raise this issue for their own private calculations which are mistaken anyway.”