Talks to end a 10-month political crisis in Lebanon and appoint a new government were once again stalled on Friday, officials said.
On the anniversary of the assassination of his father Rafiq Hariri — for which five members of Shiite movement Hezbollah are being tried in absentia — former prime minister Saad Hariri warned against a power vacuum in Lebanon.
A leading anti-Hezbollah and anti-Damascus voice, Hariri called on the Shiite movement to pull out of Syria, in order to curb a wave of bomb attacks in Lebanon.
On Friday, all appeared ready for prime minister-designate Tammam Salam to announce a new cabinet.
Beirut has been without a government since Salam’s appointment in April last year, amid deep divisions between Hezbollah and Hariri’s Sunni-led bloc over the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Hariri announced on January 21 that his bloc was prepared to join a government of national unity with Hezbollah and its allies, despite its strong opposition to the group’s military intervention in Syria.
Even after journalists had been called for a press conference to announce the new cabinet, another complication surfaced over the interior ministry portfolio just as Salam prepared to go to the presidential palace, sources on both sides told AFP.
Hariri’s camp “proposed two names, which were rejected by Hezbollah,” a source said.
One of those named was retired general Ashraf Rifi, influential ex-chief of Lebanon’s police force and opponent of Hezbollah.
The second was MP Jamal Jarrah, a member of the Hariri-led Future movement, who has been accused by Hezbollah and Damascus of sending weapons to Syrian rebels.
A source close to Salam and President Michel Sleiman had told AFP earlier Friday that “most of the obstacles (to clinching a deal on the portfolio) have been overcome”.
Lebanon’s prolonged government vacuum has been marred by repeated deadly bomb attacks on Hezbollah strongholds claimed by hardline Sunni groups which support the Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile in The Hague, five members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia over the assassination on February 14, 2005 of Rafiq Hariri.
The killing of Hariri and 22 others provoked a political crisis that led to the withdrawal from Lebanon of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence.
His son Saad Hariri gave a televised address in the afternoon to mark the anniversary, warning against a political vacuum in Lebanon.
The country’s parliament is set to designate a new president in spring to replace Sleiman, but parliament is currently paralysed.
“We refuse the vacuum in the presidency because a state without a president is a state on the verge of collapse,” Hariri said.
Hariri also addressed Hezbollah.
“Fighting terrorism requires a quick decision from Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, to abandon the illusion of pre-emptive war and recognise that the Lebanese State is responsible for the safety of its borders and citizens,” he said.
Meanwhile in northern Lebanon’s Tripoli, which has seen Syria-related battles pitting Sunnis against Alawites — who belong to the same offshoot of Shiite Islam as Syria’s Assad — gunmen launched explosives at an army post located near the Sunni district of Bab al-Tebbaneh, wounding one soldier, a security source said.