January 11, 2011 / 3:53 PM / 9 years ago

Saudi, Syria fail to forge deal over Lebanon court

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and Syria have failed to broker a deal to curb tensions in Lebanon over an international investigation into the 2005 killing of former premier Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanese politicians said on Tuesday.

The apparent breakdown prompted calls from Hezbollah and its allies for an urgent cabinet meeting, and one source said they would pull out of the government unless it agreed to halt cooperation with the U.N.-backed tribunal.

The two Arab states, who back rival camps in Lebanon, have worked since July to overcome deep disagreements over the tribunal which have paralyzed Lebanon’s government and revived fears of sectarian conflict.

“This initiative has ended without a result,” said Michel Aoun, a Christian leader and political ally of Hezbollah, which expects some of its members to be named in indictments due to be issued soon by the tribunal prosecutor.

Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the 2005 bombing which killed Hariri and 22 others. It has denounced the tribunal as an “Israeli project” and urged Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri — son of the slain Sunni leader — to reject its findings.

Okab Sakr, a Shi’ite politician close to Hariri, said there had been no statement from Saudi Arabia or Syria on the status of their initiative, and that Hariri and President Michel Suleiman would continue efforts “to solve the crisis.”

A source in the Hezbollah-led group which forms part of the fragile unity government, speaking after Aoun’s announcement, said the Shi’ite movement and its allies were demanding that cabinet meet and halt Lebanon’s cooperation with the tribunal.

“If these decisions are not taken, we will withdraw from the government,” the source said. Hezbollah and its allies would need one more minister to pull out of the cabinet in order to topple the government.

HEZBOLLAH BLAMES U.S.

Hezbollah minister Mohammad Fneish said they expected to hear by Wednesday morning if their call for an urgent session of cabinet — which has met only once in the last two months because of the political stalemate — would be heeded.

Fneish blamed the United States, where Hariri has held a series of meetings in recent days, for obstructing attempts by Riyadh and Damascus to find a solution. “There were Arab efforts that gave us the chance to work positively... These efforts have not worked because of American intervention,” he said.

Hariri has been in New York since Friday for talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The White House said in a statement that Hariri would meet on Wednesday with President Barack Obama “to discuss U.S. support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and stability, the ongoing work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and other regional issues.”

Before those talks Hariri said in a newspaper interview that the Saudi-Syrian initiative was “complete and awaiting implementation,” but that it was up to Hezbollah and its allies to make the first move.

Aoun blamed the prime minister’s supporters for the impasse.

“Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s team has not responded to the (Saudi and Syrian) efforts and we have reached a dead end,” Aoun told a televised news conference.

After the news conference a delegation of ministers from Hezbollah and its Shi’ite and Christian allies met Suleiman to press their case for cabinet to meet.

“We requested an urgent session of cabinet to take decisions to stop funding the tribunal and withdraw the Lebanese judges and cancel the memorandum of understanding with the tribunal,” the source in the Hezbollah-led group said after the talks.

Writing by Dominic Evans; additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Diana Abdallah

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