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National dialogue yields results, but sticking points remain

Country Map - Lebanon
(Naresh Newar/IRIN)

Lebanese leaders agreed earlier this week to disarm Palestinian factions outside the country’s refugee camps and establish diplomatic ties with Syria in the first national dialogue held by all the country’s political factions since 1990.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told reporters after the meeting that the disparate leaders had agreed to disarm all Palestinian militants outside the country’s 12 refugee camps within six months.

The leaders also agreed to work on establishing formal links with Syria, which would include setting up diplomatic missions.

Syria, which was the power broker in Lebanon for three decades before withdrawing troops last year, has always said that the two countries did not need embassies in each other's capitals because of their close relationship

Experts say the diplomatic missions would resolve the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails and monitoring the shared border.

"All those at the meeting agreed to establish equal relations between the two countries based on mutual trust and respect,” Berri said in a press conference on Tuesday in Beirut. “This will be embodied as soon as possible through the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Syrian and Lebanese governments at the ambassadorial level." Berri added that another round of talks would begin on 22 March.

According to analysts, the next round of dialogue is expected to be the most difficult, as it will involve the highly contentious issues of the disarmament of Shi’ite armed group Hezbollah and the position of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, who has been under growing domestic pressure to resign.

Sami Baroudi, political science professor at Beirut’s Lebanese American University, said the breakthroughs made in the talks so far were “mainly symbolic” and that he expected few concrete results from the next round.

Nevertheless, Baroudi called the outcome of the first dialogue a “positive sign”, noting that there had been “a great deal of political tension in the country before this”.

The country’s political crisis has deepened since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last February, which many Lebanese quickly blamed on Syria, triggering huge anti-Syrian protests and vast international pressure on Damascus.

Syria, the dominant power in Lebanon for three decades after intervening in the Lebanese Civil War in 1976, withdrew its forces from its smaller neighbour last April. Since then, a subsequent chain of assassinations of anti-Syrian figures has further polarised Lebanese society and paralysed official decision-making.

The UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for implementation of UN Security Council(UNSC)Resolution 1559, Terje Roed-Larsen welcomed the accomplishments of the national dialogue, especially given that the UN has repeatedly called for both Syria-Lebanon diplomatic ties and the disarming of Palestinian militias in Lebanon.

Adopted in September 2004, Resolution 1559 called on all armed militias in Lebanon to give up their weapons.

"Such a consensus is an important foundation,” said Roed-Larsen. “The National Dialogue… should be guided by the principles of Security Resolution 1559, and I’m glad to say that today's agreement is in full accordance with the resolution.”

A major sticking point, however, remains: the proposed disarmament of Hezbollah, also stipulated in resolution 1559. “Hezbollah can decide at the moment what constitutes a threat to Lebanon,” Baroudi said. “That’s not something the Lebanese see eye to eye on.”

Hezbollah, meanwhile, which won all 23 seats in southern Lebanon in the 2005 election, argues that its arms are still necessary to fight Israeli forces to liberate areas such as the Israeli occupied Shebaa Farms, which straddles its border, and therefore, is seen as the group’s most compelling reason to hold on to its weapons.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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