Lebanon PM says more optimistic after crisis talks
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri indicated that solutions to a political crisis that has paralyzed his government were almost within reach following a meeting on Thursday with President Michel Aoun.
The crisis spiraled out of a deadly June 30 shooting in the Chouf mountains that pitted groups represented in Hariri's administration against each other.
His cabinet has been unable to convene as a result, complicating efforts to enact reforms that are urgently needed to steer the country away from financial crisis.
"The meeting was positive and the solutions are near to fruition," Hariri said in a televised statement after the meeting with Aoun that local media said top security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim also attended.
"I am more optimistic than before. We must just wait a little and God willing you will hear good news," he said.
The United States said on Wednesday the case should be handled in a way that achieves justice "without politically motivated inflammation" of tensions.
Two aides of a government minister were killed in the shooting that generated the standoff pitting Druze leader Walid Jumblatt against Druze and Christian adversaries aligned with the powerful Shi'ite group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and deemed a terrorist group by Washington, said it believed the U.S. statement was aimed at "adding more complication to the current crisis" and to deepen divisions in Lebanon, calling it "blatant intervention".
The minister, Druze politician Saleh al-Gharib, declared the shooting incident an assassination attempt for which his allies held Jumblatt's party responsible.
Jumblatt's party says it was an exchange of fire initiated by Gharib's entourage in which two Jumblatt supporters were also wounded.
The sides have been at odds over which court should deal with the case.
The June 30 incident spiraled out of tension over plans by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a Christian politician and Aoun's son-in-law and an ally of Gharib, to visit the Chouf area.
Jumblatt's party on Tuesday held Bassil responsible for the incident, saying he had stirred tensions through references to a historic Christian-Druze conflict in Chouf.
Bassil responded that there was an "aggression" against him.
Without naming its sources, leading Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar said Aoun believed Bassil rather than Gharib had been the target of an ambush that day.
Jumblatt is a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his party views the incident and its repercussions as part of a wider campaign to weaken his influence over Lebanon’s Druze community to the benefit of pro-Damascus parties.
(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson)