US President Barack Obama with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri in the White House yesterday. Hariri is expected to hold a cabinet meeting when he returns to Lebanon on Saturday. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: A Saudi-Syrian initiative to mediate between the government and the opposition in Beirut over a UN-backed tribunal investigating the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri failed yesterday.

Ministers aligned with Hezbollah and its allies resigned, bringing down the government of Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri as he met with US President Barack Obama.

"It is obvious that the whole problem is an internal Lebanese problem," said Wahid Hamza Hashemi, a political science professor at the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah.

"External efforts were just an attempt to ease the tension and defuse the crisis," Hashemi told Gulf News.

"But it [has become] clear that each party is sticking to its position, and... [agendas] that, unfortunately, differ from the national Lebanese agenda — whether being Hezbollah, or the government or Michel Aoun [head of the Free Patriotic Movement and one of the main allies of Hezbollah]," he said.

Different agendas

"[The] Lebanese national agenda is that Lebanon should come first and before anything else, regardless of past mistakes, problems, or differences in opinions or conflict of interests."

Lebanese columnist Emil Khoury told Gulf News that President Michel Sulaiman had informed the opposition yesterday that Hariri was due back in Lebanon on Saturday and would likely hold a cabinet meeting.

The position of the opposition in light of Sulaiman's response was not immediately clear.

One of the scenarios — "post-resignation" of 11 ministers in the 30-member cabinet — is that Hariri will return on Saturday as the "former" prime minister, reports said.

The resignation is likely to be followed by more consultations and Hariri may be asked, once again, to form a new government.

"He will be the outgoing and prime minister-designate," Khoury said.

Sectarian conflict

Disagreements over the investigation had effectively paralysed the "unity" government and revived fears of sectarian conflict.

Hezbollah, which has denied any involvement in the 2005 bombing, has denounced the tribunal as an "Israeli project" and urged Hariri to reject its findings — a demand which the premier has resisted.

Hezbollah has blamed "American intervention and the inability of the other side to overcome American pressure" for the failure to reach a compromise.

When asked why the talks collapsed, Mohammad Fneish, a Hezbollah cabinet minister, said: "Ask [Hillary] Clinton," referring to the US Secretary of State.

While some analysts, including Khoury, partially attribute the failure to reach a solution to the internal political dilemma surrounding the tribunal, others disagree.

Hashem believes blaming the United States is just "an excuse to justify the stubbornness and inflexibility in positions, unfortunately."

The United States, he added, looks at Lebanon's interest from its own national interests and strategic interests in the region and the world.

Meanwhile, analysts expect mediating roles by other parties, namely Qatar and Turkey; especially that Doha hosted the 2008 meeting for Lebanese politicians to bridge their differences.

Major events in recent political crisis

: Rafik Hariri is killed by a car bomb in Beirut. The attack sparks anti-Syrian rallies and the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami’s cabinet. Calls for Syria to withdraw its troops intensify.

April: Syria says its forces have left Lebanon, as demanded by the UN. Karami resigns as PM after failing to form a government. He is succeeded by moderate pro-Syrian MP Najib Mikati.

June: Prominent journalist Samir Qasir, a critic of Syrian influence, is killed by a car bomb. Anti-Syrian alliance led by Sa’ad Hariri wins control of parliament following elections. New parliament chooses Hariri ally, Fouad Siniora, as prime minister. George Hawi, anti-Syrian former leader of Lebanese Communist Party, is killed by a car bomb.

July: Lebanese PM Siniora meets Syria’s President Al Assad; both sides agree to rebuild relations.

September: Four pro-Syrian generals are charged over the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

December: Prominent anti-Syrian MP and journalist Gibran Tueni is killed by a car bomb.

: Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal movement resign shortly before the cabinet approves draft UN plans for a tribunal to try suspects in the killing of former prime minister Hariri.

December: Thousands of opposition demonstrators in Beirut demand the resignation of the government.

: Hezbollah-led opposition steps up pressure on the government to resign by calling general strike.

March: Tent town which sprang up in central Beirut as part of the opposition sit-in to demand more say in government, remains in place 100 days after start of protest.

May: UN Security Council votes to set up a tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of ex-premier Hariri.

June: Anti-Syrian MP Walid Eido is killed in a bomb attack in Beirut.
September Anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanim is killed by a car bomb. Parliament adjourns the session to elect a new president until October 23, after a stay-away by the opposition pro-Syrian bloc.

: President Emile Lahoud steps down after parliament fails to elect his successor. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora says his cabinet will assume powers of presidency.

: At least 80 people are killed in clashes between Hezbollah and pro-government factions, sparking fears of civil war. Parliament elects army chief Michel Sulaiman as president, ending six-month-long political deadlock. Sulaiman reappoints Fouad Siniora as prime minister, entrusting to him task of forming new unity government.

July: Political leaders reach agreement on make-up of national unity government.

July: President Sulaiman meets Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Paris. They agree to work towards establishing full diplomatic relations between their countries.

October: Lebanon establishes diplomatic relations with Syria for first time since both countries gained independence in 1940s.

: International court to try suspected killers of former Prime Minister Hariri opens in The Hague. Expected to ask Lebanon to hand over four pro-Syrian generals held over February 2005 killing within weeks.

April: Former Syrian intelligence officer Mohammad Zuhair Al Siddiq arrested in connection with killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals held since 2005 over Hariri murder freed after UN court in The Hague rules that there is not enough evidence to convict them.

May: US Vice-President Joe Biden visits ahead of June parliamentary elections, prompting accusations from Hezbollah that US is “meddling” in Lebanese affairs. Lebanese officials say an army colonel has been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel.

June: The pro-Western March 14 alliance led by Sa’ad Hariri wins 71 of 128 seats in parliamentary elections while the rival March 8 alliance, led by Hezbollah, secures 57. Sa’ad Hariri is nominated as prime minister.

November: Sa’ad Hariri succeeds in forming government of national unity, five months after his bloc won majority of seats in parliament.
December: Lebanon’s cabinet endorses Hezbollah’s right to keep its arsenal of weapons. Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri visits Damascus for talks with President Bashar Al Assad, describing the talks as friendly, open and positive.

: Amid signs of heightened sectarian tension, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pays controversial visit to Lebanon that culminates in a rally in the Hezbollah stronghold near the Israeli border.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls on Lebanese to boycott UN tribunal probing killing of Rafik Hariri, saying the tribunal is in league with Israel.