- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

BEIRUT — The pro-Syrian faction that controls the Lebanese parliament appeared to be imploding yesterday from internal strife, leaving the prospect of holding parliamentary elections next month increasingly unlikely.

After Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned for the second time in six weeks Wednesday, other pro-Syrian politicians began to criticize each other for failing to lead the country.

The inability of the pro-Syrian coalition to form a government likely will delay elections, which originally were scheduled for late May.

Lebanon has suffered from a political impasse after demonstrations ? spurred by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and growing anti-Syrian sentiment ? forced Mr. Karami and his Cabinet to resign in February.

Mr. Karami was reappointed by President Emile Lahoud, another Syrian supporter, as prime minister less than two weeks later, but again quit after this week’s failure to form a new government.

Mr. Karami said he failed because of internal divisions in the loyalist bloc, but at least one loyalist politician blamed the pro-Syrian alliance’s leadership, including Mr. Karami and Mr. Lahoud, for the impasse.

Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh said he supported elections, but they were threatened by the impasse for which he blamed Mr. Lahoud. Both men are Maronite Christians and supporters of Syria.

?I’m for holding elections. … It’s not that important if we win or lose,? he told reporters. ?If we don’t reach the stage of an election that would reflect the public’s will, then we might arrive at a situation … that would lead to violence.

?I will certainly not enter another government during the term of President Emile Lahoud,? said Mr. Franjieh.

Mr. Karami had planned to announce a government Monday, but talks failed at the last minute.

Lebanese security services, under the command of the Interior Ministry, have been blamed by the opposition for either failing to protect Mr. Hariri or for having participated in the assassination in retaliation for Mr. Hariri’s change in position on the Syrian occupation and his work to remove Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Since the ensuing crisis, internal security services have come under criticism for a series of bomb attacks in Christian neighborhoods that have killed three persons and wounded dozens. The bombs have decimated Beirut’s tourist- and service-driven economy.

Christian neighborhoods have formed watch groups, organizations that unsettle many as a potential prelude to the formation of militias, which caused untold suffering during the civil war.

Syria has withdrawn thousands of troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon over the past few weeks and promises to complete the withdrawal by the end of this month.

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