Two days of negotiations between Lebanon’s squabbling parties in France have failed to break the political impasse between the western-backed government of Fouad Siniora and the opposition led by the pro-Syrian Shia Hizbollah movement.
Tensions between the government and the opposition are expected to come to a head in the next couple of months over the appointment of a successor to pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, slated for September or October.
Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister, said that he would continue his mediation effort with a visit to Lebanon later this month.
Underlining the deteriorating security situation, the UN’s peacekeeping force Unifil in the south of Lebanon came under attack for the second time in less than a month on Monday when a small bomb exploded next to a convoy, causing no casualties.
Last month, six Spanish and Colombian soldiers died in a similar bombing.
The country is facing its worst political and security crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war - something highlighted in a report last week by the UN commission investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
“The security outlook for Lebanon over the coming months appears to be bleak,” the commission, headed by the Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, concluded.
The commission warned in particular of “growing tension marked by possible further security incidents” in the run-up to parliament choosing a new president to succeed Mr Lahoud.
The president is seen as one of the last remaining pillars of Syria’s once near-total dominance of the country and many government supporters fear Damascus will not easily give up on the presidency. Even some in Lebanon’s opposition now say that the country’s current woes are related to Syria’s wish to retain influence.
A senior pro-Syrian opposition official told the Financial Times that instability was inevitable as long as a list of Syrian interests was not safeguarded. This included keeping the borders between the countries porous, not acting against armed, Syrian-allied Palestinian groups and not electing an anti-Syrian president.
The security situation in Lebanon has already sharply deteriorated over the last couple of months, with the army fighting Islamist militants in the northern Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el-Bared since 20 May. In a marked escalation, the militants fired salvos of katyusha rockets at villages in the north over the weekend.
Last month also saw the killing of an anti-Syrian lawmaker and nine others in an explosion in Beirut as well as other attacks.
Mr Brammertz estimated in his report that the decision at the end of May by the UN Security Council to set up an international tribunal to try the suspects in the killing of Mr Hariri is also contributing to the rising tensions.
Syria and its allies in Lebanon had strenuously opposed the formation of the tribunal.
The talks in France focused on solving the political stalemate that started when Hizbollah and its allies withdrew from the government last November.
Hizbollah attended the meeting outside Paris, in spite of a spat with France over remarks by President Nicolas Sarkozy last week, who called it a terrorist organisation. The movement is on the US but not the European Union’s list of terrorist organisations.