A number of politicians who met at the home of parliament speaker Nabih Berri have issued a statement saying "no politician has the right to overstep the red lines that consolidate national unity."

The statement invited the Lebanese opposition, with all its factions, to an unconditional and open dialogue to tackle the ramifications of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Doors closed?

In response to the government supporters' accusations, opposition member Dr Faris Said said it was the government loyalists who had always refused to talk.

"It was not the opposition that has closed the 'doors of dialogue' for the last 15 years.

Nasr Allah warned against
popular agitation

"Why did the government not offer an initiative prior to the assassination of the late al-Hariri and after the assassination attempt against former minister Marwan Hamadah?

"This government has been offering tactic support for those carrying out assassination operations against Lebanese figures and then it comes to say that the opposition has closed the doors of dialogue?

"No dialogue at the same time as car bombs attacks and I think that the first sign of a dialogue in Lebanon will be to uncover those behind the crime of assassinating al-Hariri", he added.

Nasr Allah warns

Hizb Allah leader Hasan Nasr Allah warned on Saturday that popular agitation against Syria's presence in Lebanon could plunge the country back into civil war.

America and France are to
coordinate positions on Lebanon

“God forbid, if the roof collapses, it collapses on all of us," Nasrallah told at least 100,000 Shia Muslims gathered for Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shia calendar.

"Today we are responsible for a nation that came out of the civil war ... but we face acute problems, especially this year and in the past few months," Nasr Allah said.

"As Lebanese, we have no choice for remedying our crises and problems except to discuss and meet, even if we are angry and tense," he said. "We must not repeat the mistakes of the past."  

International probe concerns

Meanwhile a Lebanese minister said he welcomes UN help but has expressed concern over an international investigation regarding Monday's assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

Speaking to Aljazeera from Beirut, Minister of State Karam Karam said the Lebanese authorities were determined to bring the perpetrators to book and welcomed any assistance from international experts.

The opposition demand a fair
probe into the killing of Hariri

But he added that he could not speak on behalf of the Lebanese state.

Karam said an international investigation would send the wrong signals.

"An international investigation is very different from sending international experts. An international investigation means the international community or any other country does not trust the Lebanese state and its judicial authorities," he said.


Karam told Aljazeera: "Lebanon is more than capable of conducting this [investigation] and had announced its willingness to accept the assistance of international experts the minute al-Hariri was assassinated."

 

UN team

Karam was responding to an announcement on Friday by the UN to send a team led by Ireland's deputy police commissioner to Beirut within a few days to investigate al-Hariri's assassination.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
sent a team to investigate

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's decision to send the team is in response to a request from the UN Security Council that he urgently report on "the circumstances, causes and consequences" of al-Hariri's killing, a UN spokesman announced on Friday.

Peter Fitzgerald has been appointed as the UN investigative team leader, a deputy Irish police commissioner since 1998 and has worked in UN peacekeeping operations in Namibia and Cambodia and was police commissioner in Bosnia until February 1997.

Lack of consultation

Asked if his government would work with the UN team, Defence Minister Abd al-Rahim Murad said: "I do not think so.

"This issue was proposed by the opposition and we did not agree on that," he told state television, referring to a cabinet meeting the previous day.

Murad complained that the government had not even been notified by the UN as to the commission's mission and terms of reference. 

Abd al-Rahim Murad (L) says the
UN has not even contacted them

He took particular issue with Fitgerald's appointment, saying that Beirut should have been given a veto over the choice.

"The council of ministers did not agree ... on how to deal with this issue in particular," he said.

"This issue is up to the council of ministers and chiefly the prime minister."

Chirac accused of incitement

Prime Minister Umar Karamah struck back, accusing the opposition of "planning a coup d'etat" but adding that his government remained open to "dialogue".

Information Minister Elie Firzli accused French President Jacques Chirac of having a direct hand in the opposition's campaign.

"Chirac made himself a direct party to lead the battle on the Lebanese scene," Firzli charged.

Murad echoed his colleagues's allegations and slammed Chirac's decision not to meet government officials when he attended Hariri's funeral on Wednesday, even though it was not a state ceremony. 

Chirac is accused of having a
hand in the opposition's campaign

"(Chirac) came to accuse, help the opposition to escalate and encourage the opposition to escalate," the defence minister said.

He also lashed out at a French government advisory warning nationals against all non-essential travel to Lebanon.

"We regret this extremist position and hope that it will not last long and that France will revoke this wrong decision," he said.

Call for talks
 

Karam said he supported dialogue to resolve differences with the opposition.

 

"An international investigation is very different from sending international experts"

Dr Karam Karam,
Lebanese minister of state

"Personally and as a minister in the government, I have previously called for and I still call for talks, to use the language of negotiations and logic to strengthen national unity

 

and promote co-existence, as this is what protects Lebanon and its people. 

 

"By doing this, we will also be paying tribute to everything al-Hariri stood for and represented."

 

Referring to Lebanon's civil war, the minister said: "We should learn from the past. We have suffered a lot and do not want to return to that."

US, French coordination

Meanwhile, US President George Bush was due to meet Chirac in Brussels on a fence-mending trip on Monday and coordinate their positions on Lebanon.

The United States and France have been insisting that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, as they engineered a UN resolution adopted on 2 September that squeaked through with the minimum nine votes required for a resolution.

 

Syria sent troops in 1976 to help quell a civil war in Lebanon. They remained through 14 years of fighting and are still there.