Lebanese parties try to find way to avoid civil war

Lebanese politicians of all stripes spent the weekend trying to defuse the ongoing confrontation between the government and opposition forces that resulted in violence during a one-day strike last week.

The Daily Star of Beirut reports that leaders of the various parties called for calm, fearing that the conflict could become civil war if not stopped.

Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, urged all Lebanese, especially the families of those who died during recent clashes, to "remain calm, and not try to take revenge on their own."

"There is a state, there are security forces and there is a judicial system in Lebanon that will not let this issue go, and we will not let this issue go," he said.

Mr. Nasrallah also vowed that Hizbullah's arms would not be used in any internal strife, but also said he would continue the battle to bring down the Lebanese government.

The Star also reports that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora phoned Speaker Nabih Berri and President Emile Lahoud, who are both pro-Syrian supporters of the opposition movement, in an effort to break the impasse. And Iran, the primary back of Hizbullah, and Saudi Arabia, which backs the Siniora government, are also working together to try and arrange a meeting between the prime minister and the president.

"Iran has a critical regional presence and role, and we have been in constant contact with the officials there, and one of the issues discussed is the current situation in Lebanon," said [Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Lebanon, Abdel-Aziz Khoja].

"What happens in Lebanon has regional repercussions, and so we are working with all the critical players at find[ing] a solution," he said - adding, however, that "the solution has to come from the Lebanese themselves."

The Lebanese news site Naharnet reports that Ambassador Khojal also met separately with Mr. Berri and Mr. Siniora. Berri told reporters that he was "more optimistic" about finding a solution to the stalemate after his hour-long meeting with the Saudi diplomat.

Agence France-Presse reports that Lebanon's eduation minister called on the government and opposition forces not to draw students into the conflict. His remarks come after last Thursday's violence at Beirut University between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which left four dead and 152 injured.

"I call upon all sides and political forces not to implicate schools and universities in dangerous conflicts," [Khaled] Kabbani said on LBC television, adding that political tension had become evident "particularly in universities."

In another effort to defuse tensions, Mr. Kabbani said Lebanon's universities and schools, which have been closed since last Thursday's violence, would remain closed until until Wednesday, the day after the Shiite religious holiday of Ashura, which is a public holiday in Lebanon.

Marc Sirois, the managing editor of The Daily Star, writes in a commentary that the recent Paris III donors conference, at which countries came forward to donate $7.6 billion to help rebuild Lebanon, is helpful to the Siniora government in the short-term, because it helps the government remain financially solvent. But no amount of aid, he argues, will help unless Lebanon decides to "change its wicked ways."

Even (and perhaps especially) if all of the pledges made at Paris III were to be disbursed in the absence of the economic reforms upon which most of them are supposed to be contingent, the effect would be negligible if the current political system were to remain in place. Sectarianism can abide the imposition of limited accountability and transparency if these apply exclusively at the lower end of the political food chain. In fact, by co-opting such notions for their own purposes, sectarian leaders can even strengthen their positions by, for example, preventing or slowing the rise of would-be rivals while lessening the appearance of their own caprice.

Sectarianism cannot coexist, however, with a regime that universally makes individuals accountable and practices transparent by enforcing the rule of law. If and when these tribal chieftains are deprived of their ability to buy loyalty and control by doling out public funds for personal purposes, their utility to their respective constituencies will expire in short order. Once that happens, all Lebanese of all faiths can start thinking in terms of who will legitimately pursue their shared interests rather than who will lavish the largest dollops of goodies on particular communities. Although it might be rambunctious and disorderly in the short term, and some politicians will still eye the till with their usual rapaciousness, the end result will be a country that doesn't go to war with itself every so often and rely on handouts to delay an inevitable collapse.

Finally, The Associated Press reports that the new commander of the United Nations forces in Lebanon, Italian Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano, arrived in Beirut on Monday. General Graziano's main duty will be to ensure that there is no fighting between Hizbullah-backed militias and Israeli forces on Lebanon's southern border. The UN force currently has around 11,750 troops and other personnel in Lebanon. There are also more than 10,000 Lebanese Army personnel in the south to help prevent confrontation.

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