MON 17 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jan 11, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Officials lose sight of govt crisis as Syria question flares
Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: As Lebanon responds to the damage caused by storm Norma, a political storm may be gathering as the government formation is placed on the back burner and politicians spar over Syria’s participation in the upcoming Arab economic summit.

Signaling that a Cabinet breakthrough in the near future is unlikely, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said that a reactivation of the caretaker government wasn’t off the table. “Everything is possible,” he told reporters before heading a meeting of ministers and other high-level officials to follow up on the widespread damage in the wake of storm Norma.

The premier-designate was responding to a question on whether Thursday’s meeting was a prelude to reconvening Cabinet sessions. He added that a session strictly designated for passing the 2019 national budget is “up for consultations.”

Hariri’s comments come at a time of increased tensions between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri. The speaker called for postponing the Arab Economic and Social Development summit just days after Aoun said it would go ahead even if a government had not been formed. Beirut is set to host the summit on Jan. 19-20.

NBN, a Berri-affiliated TV channel, issued a statement saying it would boycott the summit because “brotherly Syria” was not invited and because Libya was.

Berri and his Amal Movement are opposed to Lebanon having ties with Libya due to the 1978 disappearance of the movement’s founder, Imam Musa Sadr, and two companions during an official visit to the country.

LBCI reported that Amal Movement supporters voiced their readiness to block the Libyan delegation from leaving the airport upon arrival in Beirut for the summit.

The Higher Shiite Council also announced it would hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss Libya’s invitation to the summit.

As the debate over Syria’s invitation, which the Arab League determines, escalates, attention has turned away from the government formation deadlock, which is now in its eighth month.

Six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs who have demanded a spot in the Cabinet announced Thursday that they would not budge from their insistence that they be represented by either one of their group or one of three people they have suggested.

Faisal Karami, one of the MPs, said Hariri “can’t not find a solution” to accommodate their demand.

Hariri has refused to allot the ministers a seat from his Cabinet share, while an initiative to secure their representation from Aoun’s share has failed over a demand that the six MPs’ representative be exclusive to their group.

Karami said the MPs, who have called themselves the “Consultative Gathering,” were not aware of any initiatives currently underway to resolve the issue.

In the meantime, Hezbollah has remained silent about the political developments since it announced last week that Syria needed to be invited to the AESD summit.

Hitting out at Hezbollah Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would not allow a continuation of the status quo.

During a speech at the American University in Cairo, the top U.S. diplomat said former President Barack Obama ignored the growth of the group in Lebanon.

“In Lebanon, Hezbollah remains a major presence, but we won’t accept this status quo. Our aggressive sanctions campaign against Iran is also directed at the terror group and its leaders, including the son of [Sayyed] Hasan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah,” he said.

“In Lebanon, the United States will work to reduce the threat of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, which is aimed at Israel and can reach all points inside of that country. Many of these rockets are equipped with advance guidance systems, courtesy of Iran, and that’s unacceptable. Iran may think it owns Lebanon. Iran is wrong,” he added.

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