The ministers headed out of the session on Thursday after a verbal clash between Marwan Hamadeh, the anti-Syrian telecommunications minister, and Emile Lahoud, the president, whom the parliamentary majority seeks to remove from office, an AFP correspondent said.

The walkout came shortly after majority leader Saad al-Hariri said talks intended to break a long-running political deadlock were close to resolving one of the most contentious issues - the fate of Lahoud.

"Solutions have actually been found to certain issues, and there will soon be a solution to the issue of the Lebanese presidency," Hariri said in Cairo after meeting Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

The apparent meltdown followed a public dispute between  Lahoud and Fuad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, at Wednesday's Arab summit in Khartoum over a draft resolution pledging to support Lebanese armed groups.

"We represent the majority and Siniora was our representative at the summit. His position was the legitimate one, not yours," Hamadeh told Lahoud at the start of the cabinet session.

Verbal assault

Ahmad Fatfat, the interim interior minister, said Lahoud also attacked him verbally during the session.

After the cabinet meeting, Lahoud said the walkout was a "comedy" and insisted that the Arab leaders had adopted his own point of view at the Khartoum summit.

"The Arabs were more concerned about Lebanon than the Lebanese," he said.

Lahoud and Hamadeh clashed at
the cabinet meeting on Thursday

The argument in Khartoum erupted after Siniora, who took part in the meeting without sitting in the Lebanese delegation led by his arch rival Lahoud, demanded the removal of a clause pledging support to the armed "Lebanese resistance".

Lahoud protested against Siniora's request - which reflected concern over the right of the Shia militia Hezbollah's right to retain its arms - leading to a dispute between the two leaders.

After Thursday's cabinet session, Hamadeh said "the walkout does not threaten the government" and will not affect the national dialogue process which resumes on Monday.

Lahoud is not taking part in the dialogue.

"The walkout is meant to protest what happened in Khartoum," Hamadeh said.

Mediating role

Mubarak's meeting with Hariri came only days after Mubarak met separately with Siniora and Faruq al-Shara, the Syrian vice president.

Siniora speaking in parliament on
Thursday on the continuing crisis

Mubarak, who has long played a mediating role in the Middle East conflict, has been trying to ease tensions between Lebanon and Syria over the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq al-Hariri, the father of Saad al-Hariri.

UN reports have suggested top-level Syrian involvement in the murder, which triggered a wave of domestic and international pressure that forced Damascus to pull out its troops from its smaller neighbour in April last year.

Lebanon, however, remains in a deep political crisis.

The roundtable talks are aimed at breaking the deadlock over Lahoud's fate and the disarming of Hezbollah.

International and domestic outcry in the wake of Hariri's killing in a February 2005 bomb blast led Syria to withdraw its troops after maintaining a military presence in its tiny neighbour for 29 years.