BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri insisted Wednesday that the upcoming Arab Economic Social Development Summit in Beirut features the Syrian government, while also suggesting the cancelation of the event in the absence of a fully functioning Lebanese Cabinet.
MP Abdul Rahim Mourad, a member of the pro-Hezbollah Sunni coalition, quoted Berri as saying that the Arab Economic Social Development Summit "cannot be held without Syria" while MP Ali Bazzi, a member of the speaker's parliamentary bloc, suggested postponing the event until after a Lebanese Cabinet is formed.
The two-day summit, which is scheduled to kick off in Beirut on January 19, was seen as an opportunity to secure support for Lebanon, which is suffering from a severe economic slowdown.
President Michel Aoun had assured last week that the summit would be held as planned and "on time," amid rumors that the event would be canceled in the absence of a fully functioning Cabinet and disagreements over whether an invitation should be extended to President Bashar Assad's regime to participate in the event.
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 before imposing a wide array of economic sanctions on Assad's regime following the outbreak of a bloody civil war.
Hezbollah, a close ally of the regime, who sent thousands of troops to shore up Assad's forces, said that inviting Syria would "strengthen Lebanon and further its strategic interest as Arab states "rush back to Damascus."
The Iranian-backed militant group has been accused of hampering the Cabinet formation in an attempt to blackmail his Lebanese political rivals to normalize ties with the Syrian regime. Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since the last parliamentary elections took place some 7 months ago.
Hezbollah and Berri have thrown their weight behind Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri's Sunni rivals, demanding that six MPs be represented in the Cabinet.
The March 8-affiliated Sunni MPs have been demanding to be allocated one ministry in the 30-member Cabinet. President Michel Aoun had accepted to cede one Minister from his share to represent the group, but his efforts to break the deadlock failed after the coalition rejected the proposed candidate.
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