Brahimi tipped to be envoy as tension spreads

In Lebanon a former cabinet minister has been accused of plotting bomb attacks

Beirut

A veteran Algerian mediator who helped forge a peace agreement after Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war has been tipped as the front-runner to lead international diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Syria.

Diplomatic sources said Lakhdar Brahimi is being considered to replace Kofi Annan as the United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, after the former UN Secretary-General quit last week saying the militarisation of the conflict and deadlock at the Security Council had made his job impossible.

Like Mr Annan, the 78-year-old Algerian diplomat who has twice served as UN envoy for Afghanistan, is a member of "The Elders", a group of public figures brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to work on global problems. If his appointment is confirmed, the seasoned negotiator, who retired from active UN duties in 2005, has to keep diplomatic efforts up to speed with the worsening situation on the ground, one which threatens stability in neighbouring countries.

Across the border in Lebanon a series of sensational allegations were yesterday levelled at a former cabinet minister, who has been accused of plotting a series of bomb attacks in the country at the behest of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. Dozens of internal security forces officers stormed residences belonging to Michel Samaha, one of Lebanon's most controversial politicians, on Thursday. He is known as "Syria's No 1 man in Lebanon" and there were rumours that his arrest had been related to assassination attempts on politicians from the other side of Lebanon's political divide.

A series of media leaks from security sources yesterday alleged that the politician had personally transferred explosives used to make 20 remote-controlled bombs that were planted across the country.

For Lebanese observers, almost as extraordinary as the allegations themselves is the fact that Mr Samaha, seen as one of Lebanon's "untouchable" politicians, was detained at all, especially considering pro-Syrian Hezbollah exerts so much influence over the country's security services. The group has claimed that the allegations are "fabrications".

In a move likely to increase pressure on the organisation, the US Treasury announced yesterday that it would be imposing new sanctions on Hezbollah, accusing it of playing an "integral role in the continued violence the Assad regime is inflicting on the Syrian population".

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, yesterday pledged a further £5m in "non-lethal" support for rebels in Syria.

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