BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated on Friday his objection to Libya's invitation to the upcoming Arab Economic Social Development Summit, in the latest controversy to emerge over the event, which Syrian President Bashar Assad's government have been excluded from attending.
The two-day summit, slated for January 19, has become a focal point of the debate between rival political camps in Lebanon over the need to normalize relations with the Syrian government. Berri's Amal Movement and its Shiite ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, have thrown their support behind the embattled regime, calling for its representation in the summit, a move that has been opposed by the Saudi-backed Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. 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 the bloody civil war.
President Michel Aoun's son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, had sought Syria's re-inclusion in the Arab league ahead of the summit but to no avail.
Syria's exclusion from the summit prompted Berri to demand that the event be adjourned, arguing that the summit should take place after a Lebanese Cabinet is formed. Aoun, however, had assured last week that the event would be held as planned and "on time."
Berri's objection to Libya's invitation is seen as another attempt to pile pressure on rival political parties to normalize ties with the Syrian regime, a move that Hezbollah, who sent thousands of troops to shore up Assad's forces, says would "strengthen Lebanon and further its strategic interest as Arab states "rush back to Damascus."
Berri's press office rebuffed Friday a statement by the summit's organizing media committee, which claimed that the speaker had approved Libya's invitation to attend the gathering of Arab leaders.
The Amal Movement and Libya's feud dates back to the disappearance of Mussa Sadr, the founder of the Shiite group, who vanished along with his companions on August 31, 1978, in Libya while on an official visit.
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