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World News

French envoy hands invites to Lebanon leaders

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A French envoy arrived in Beirut on Tuesday to hand out invitations to rival Lebanese leaders for a meeting in France later this month aimed at easing tensions in the country.

Lebanese army troops patrol a street during clashes with militants from an al-Qeada inspired group at an entrance of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in north Lebanon July 3, 2007. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

The meeting scheduled for mid-July will include second-tier Lebanese politicians and is not expected to yield a breakthrough in a political crisis which pits the Western-backed government against the opposition, which includes Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

“These are talks between Lebanese in the presence of the French, specifically French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. This does not mean that France will impose the issues to be discussed,” said Jean-Claude Cousseran after meeting Siniora.

“France aims, through these talks, to organize and participate in talks between the different representatives of the Lebanese sides,” Cousseran, a former ambassador, said.

Lebanon was plunged into its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war last November, when opposition ministers quit Siniora’s government after he refused to grant the opposition veto power in government.

Rival Lebanese leaders have welcomed the French meeting but warn against any high expectations, especially after the failure of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa to resolve the standoff in a recent mediation drive.

The meeting scheduled for July 14-16 will take place in Saint-Cloud, a wealthy suburb west of Paris, and will include representatives from 14 of Lebanon’s broad political parties.

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The Lebanese army has also been fighting al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants in northern Lebanon where at least 204 people have been killed since May 20.

Bombs in and around Beirut, an assassination on an anti-Syrian lawmaker and a fatal car bomb attack on U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, further exacerbate Lebanon’s fragile political landscape.

The anti-Syrian majority in Siniora’s cabinet accuses the opposition, made up of mainly Christian and pro-Syrian Shi’ite Muslim factions, of trying to derail a special tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 killing of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri.

Pro-government leaders say Syria is responsible for Hariri’s assassination, a charge Damascus denies.

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