- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Lebanese official yesterday said the leading government party was ready to accept an Arab League package of political solutions to defuse the crisis paralyzing the country.

The Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah has tied up central Beirut for more than a week with huge street protests aimed at undermining the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and gaining more political power.

Arab League leader Amr Moussa told reporters Tuesday that “progress has been made” toward a compromise resolution, but that all parties would have to make concessions for a consensus to be reached.

Amal Mudallali, a foreign policy adviser to parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, said the package would grant the opposition more seats in the Cabinet but leave it one short of the veto power demanded by Hezbollah.

The deal floated by the Arab League and accepted by the ruling anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance would assign 19 Cabinet positions to the governing party, 10 to an opposition comprising Hezbollah and the Christians led by Gen. Michel Aoun, and one to a political independent.

The deal also supports the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the bombing murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, the holding of early presidential elections and the formation of a new government.

“It has to be approved all at the same time,” said Miss Mudallali. “Our position is, this is a comprehensive package to finish the current crisis. The political situation is such that it cannot afford much more tension, nor can the economic situation.”

Lebanon’s political leaders were still negotiating yesterday evening. The main sticking points appeared to be the sequence of events in the package and final formal approval of the international tribunal.

“There is no indication that we are any closer to an agreement,” said Miss Mudallali.

President Emile Lahoud and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri — both seen as supporting Syria and Hezbollah — have resisted taking the final steps needed to authorize the tribunal.

A U.N. investigators’ report says there were links between the assassination of Rafiq Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005, and theslaying or attempted killing of 14 other prominent figures over the past two years, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

The AP quoted the head of the U.N.-led inquiry, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, saying in New York that the investigation had reached “a critical stage.”

The government, which thinks Syria is behind the killings, sees the tribunal as essential to establishing Beirut’s independence from Damascus.

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