ANKARA: Lebanon’s pro-Western prime minister consulted with regional power Turkey on Friday as part of efforts to rally international support after the Shia group Hezbollah brought down the Lebanese government.
Saad Hariri, having met with President Barack Obama in Washington and stopped in France en route to Turkey, was expected to discuss steps to solve the government crisis with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Hariri left Turkey after the meeting, and neither he nor Turkish authorities made any statement.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah-led alliance quit the government Wednesday, causing it to collapse. The crisis was the climax of long-simmering tensions over the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The tribunal is widely expected to indict members of Hezbollah soon, which many fear could rekindle violence in the tiny nation plagued for decades by war and civil strife. Hezbollah denounces the Netherlands-based tribunal as a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel. It had demanded Hariri reject the tribunal’s findings even before they came out, but Hariri has refused to break cooperation with the court and its investigations.
Turkish leaders are expected to propose holding an international conference to address the crisis and advise Hariri to try to seek a consensus with Hezbollah, private NTV television said Friday.
Hezbollah, already Lebanon’s most potent military force, is now making a bid to expand its political power by installing an ally as prime minister. Hezbollah’s allies said it would be futile for Hariri to stay in the post. But politicians in the pro-Western coalition, said there was no alternative to the 40-year-old billionaire Hariri, who remains the most popular choice among Sunni Muslims.
If Hezbollah succeeds, its patrons in Iran and Syria would have far more sway in that volatile corner of the Middle East — something Washington has worked to prevent.
Turkey, which has built closer ties with Lebanon since participating in the Lebanon peacekeeping force after the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in southern Lebanon, believes it could play a role in returning stability to the region.
"The stability of Lebanon is important for the stability of the region," the Anatolia news agency quoted Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu as saying on Thursday. "We regard all Lebanese as Turkey’s friends, regardless of their political view, sect or religion."
The Turkish prime minister’s vociferous criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has sharply raised his profile in the Islamic world. Turkey’s relations with Israel hit an all-time low in May, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine activists on a Turkish aid ship that tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.