World News

Lebanon opposition leader sees crisis end: paper

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese opposition leader said a deal to end the country’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war could emerge “within 48 hours”, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Asharq Al-Awsat quoted opposition leader Nabih Berri, who is also speaker of parliament, as saying the chances of a solution were greater now than at any other point in the crisis, which has at times spilled into lethal street violence.

Lebanon was on the agenda of a Saudi-Iranian summit on Saturday. The states are important backers of the camps which are tussling for control of the Beirut government.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran supports Hezbollah, which together with Berri and Christian leader Michel Aoun, is demanding veto power in a government controlled by allies of Saad al-Hariri, who is close to the Sunni Muslim Saudi monarchy.

Hezbollah and Amal represent the majority of Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslims and Hariri is the country’s most powerful Sunni Muslim leader, giving the political standoff a sectarian dimension and raising fears of a new civil war.

Asharq Al-Awsat, a pan-Arab daily, quoted Berri as expressing more optimism on a deal. He said “the chances of success this time are greater than at any previous time”. Berri said a settlement “might appear within 48 hours”.

The opposition, which disputes the legitimacy of the government, has been camped out in central Beirut for more than three months to press its demand for a national unity government in which it would have veto power.

Asharq Al-Awsat said the settlement would include a deal on a unity government as well as agreement on an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

The opposition says it agrees on the idea of setting up a tribunal but wants to discuss the details and has said it fears the court will be used as a political tool.

Saad al-Hariri’s allies say Hezbollah and Amal are trying to derail plans for the tribunal to protect Syria, which the governing coalition blames for the February 14, 2005 killing. Hezbollah and Amal are both allied to Syria, which denies involvement.

Saudi King Abdullah on Saturday held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was on his first official trip to Saudi Arabia. They agreed to fight the spread of Sunni-Shi’ite strife in the region, the Saudi foreign minister said.

Ahmadinejad voiced support for Saudi efforts to ease tensions in Lebanon, and the two leaders called on all parties to cooperate with these efforts, the official Saudi agency SPA said.