By Lin Noueihed BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s pro-Syrian prime minister said on Monday he was determined to forge a national unity government, even though anti-Syrian opposition leaders have refused to join any lineup before general elections.  Political divisions deepened over the weekend when the opposition dismissed Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud’s call for talks after a bomb wounded 11 people in a Beirut suburb, raising fresh fears of a return to Lebanon’s violent past. Opposition leaders instead urged Prime Minister Omar Karami, who resigned last month but was reappointed by parliament to form a new government, to make do without them and quickly pick a cabinet to lead Lebanon to elections due in May. he polls may have to be postponed if the political stalemate persists, but Karami stuck to his guns.
“We announced from the start that we will form only a national unity government and this requires dialogue with all sides, opposition and loyalists,” he told reporters.

“The time we have taken was not procrastination but time to develop positions … Of course the absence of the patriarch slowed things down.”

Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, spiritual leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Christians and a longstanding critic of Syria’s role, is on a visit to the United States, where he suggested a cabinet split evenly between opposition members and loyalists.

Karami said everyone realized the situation was difficult and dangerous: “Our mission is … to bring problems from the street to the table of dialogue, to the formation of a national unity government, to elections.”


Buoyed by popular protests against Syria’s influence that have swept Beirut since the Feb 14 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, opposition leaders believe they can win the elections and are keen for them to go ahead on time.

“The priority is elections, (and) a clear timetable for the withdrawal of the Syrians from Lebanon before the elections,” top opposition figure and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said in Cairo after talks with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak (newsweb sites).

“Then, after the result of the elections, we will see what will happen (about) the future for President Lahoud.”

Protesters on Monday in boats flying Lebanese flags and signs demanding independence and the truth about who killed Hariri buzzed off the Beirut coastal strip where the blast occurred.

The demonstrators again demanded Lahoud’s resignation and an end to Syria’s sway.

Jumblatt and some opposition colleagues had urged Lahoud to step down after Hariri’s assassination, which they blamed on Syria and its local allies. Damascus has denied any role.

The opposition also held Syria and the Lebanese security agencies it backs responsible for the bombing that shook a Christian suburb of Beirut in the early hours of Saturday.

But the anti-Syrian camp, made up of disparate groupings, has sent mixed signals about when Lahoud should go. Questioned about this, Jumblatt said elections were the priority and Lebanese officials say Lahoud has no plans to quit. Syria has been under intense international pressure since Hariri’s death to withdraw its forces before the elections.


Damascus has already withdrawn 4,000 to 6,000 troops, and a Syrian-Lebanese committee is due to meet next month to agree a timetable for the remaining 8,000 to 10,000 to leave.

The United States says a full withdrawal is needed for the polls to be fair and also demands the disarmament of Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim Hizbollah guerrillas, in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said disarming Hizbollah was an internal Lebanese matter but his country was committed to a full withdrawal from Lebanon, although the resolution demanding it leave set no deadline or mechanism.