By Tom Perry
BEIRUT (Reuters) – The powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah is working to remove obstacles to a deal on a new government which must be formed as soon as possible to avoid collapse, one of its top officials said on Thursday.
Lebanon has been without a functioning government since Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister in October after protests against the political elite over corruption, leaving the country without a rescue plan as financial and economic crises deepen.
The worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war has led the Lebanese pound to slump amid a dollar shortage and banks to tightly control access to cash and block transfers abroad.
Spiraling regional tensions since the killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, a close ally of Shi’ite Hezbollah, by the United States last week have added to the risks facing the heavily indebted state. Hezbollah has said Iran’s allies in the region should help avenge the killing.
But referring to the regional conflict, senior Hezbollah official Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed said nobody including Hezbollah wanted “a government of confrontation” in Lebanon but one that could save the country.
“We are carrying a very important and exhausting role to reach an agreement as soon as possible to prevent this collapse,” Sayyed said.
“We have taken the initiative and continue to do so to remove all obstacles and complications to reach a government.”
Speaking after a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, Sayyid also noted that the regional situation was “another incentive” for concessions.
Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has exercised more sway over Lebanese state affairs since it won a parliamentary majority together with its political allies in 2018.
Along with allies including President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah last month nominated former government minister Hassan Diab to form the next government after the failure of efforts to make a deal with Hariri, an ally of the West and Gulf Arab states.
Shi’ite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, said the government formation was facing complications and the situation in Lebanon was going from bad to worse.
The pound has weakened again in recent days on the parallel market: dollars were being offered at 2,400 pounds on Thursday – some 60% weaker than its official peg of 1,507.5 pounds, a dealer said.
In a rebuke to politicians, Jan Kubis, the senior U.N. official in Lebanon, on Wednesday said it was “increasingly irresponsible” to keep Lebanon without a government.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Editing by William Maclean)