Lebanon PM postpones cabinet meeting after shooting

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri decided on Monday to postpone a cabinet meeting for 48 hours to allow tensions to ease after two aides of a government minister were killed in a shooting on Sunday.

In televised comments, Hariri said the judiciary would take all steps to hold accountable those behind the shooting which the minister, Saleh al-Gharib, has called an attempted assassination.

“I agreed to head a national unity government, not a national disagreement government. We need 48 hours to clear the air so I decided to postpone the meeting,” Hariri said.

The incident in the Aley region spiralled as supporters of Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon’s main Druze leader, protested against a planned visit to the area by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a Maronite Christian and Jumblatt adversary aligned with Gharib.

Bassil ultimately cancelled the visit, saying he wanted to avoid any security problem.

Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) has accused Gharib’s bodyguards of opening fire. Gharib in turn has said he was targeted by an “armed ambush”.

The incident has inflamed tensions between Jumblatt’s party and his historic Druze rival Talal Arslan, a pro-Damascus politician who backs Gharib and is also aligned with Bassil.

Jumblatt’s party has two ministries in Hariri’s coalition government and tussled with Arslan over the third cabinet post reserved for the Druze sect, which ultimately went to Gharib.

Lebanon’s coalition was formed in late January after months of negotiations and is trying to pass a state budget and other economic reforms to address the country’s heavy public debt and get the economy moving again.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Angus McDowall, Editing by Tom Perry and Catherine Evans)

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