Lebanese President Elias Hrawi on Sunday gave Christian commander Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun 48 hours to join his new reconciliation government, and a showdown appeared increasingly likely as the embattled army chief vowed to resist.
Hrawi, meeting with reporters in Beirut after his new Cabinet's ratification by Parliament, said he would appoint a new commander for the Lebanese army by Wednesday morning, leaving Aoun two days in which to decide whether to give up his fortress in the presidential palace at Baabda and remain with the army as an officer.
"We are not here to start a war, but if there is going to be another explosion, it will only be for a few hours, to finish those (who) act without legality," Hrawi said.
"Whatever is left of Baabda," the president declared, "even if it is only one room, when this situation is over in East Beirut, it will be my residence."
Aoun, in an interview with French television, said he has received reports of Syrian troop movements along the dividing line between Beirut's warring sectors and expects an imminent attack on the presidential palace.
"I will defend myself," he asserted. And, in a separate interview with Radio Monte Carlo, he added: "We are preparing for the worst-case scenario to defend ourselves whatever the circumstances. . . . Force can smash us, but it cannot justify the crime."
Political analysts here said it is clear that Hrawi's government will attempt to resolve the confrontation through diplomatic and political channels before resorting to force, and some viewed the apparent troop movements as an exercise in psychological pressure.
Aoun still has the 10,000-member Lebanese Forces militia in his camp, at least for the moment, but the new government has an estimated 15,000 Muslim Lebanese troops, various militias and the backing of the Syrian government, which has 40,000 troops controlling much of Lebanon.
It is the Syrian occupation that has formed the basis of Aoun's opposition to the new government, which he labeled "a Syrian puppet." Aoun has steadfastly refused to accept the new peace accord under which the government was established because it does not call for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
The peace plan, adopted Oct. 12 in Taif, Saudi Arabia, calls for the Maronite Christians who have traditionally exercised political dominance in Lebanon to give up much of their power to the Muslim majority.
The situation had been at a simmer for weeks after the Parliament returned from Taif. Rene Mouawad, elected president Nov. 5, was slow to form a new government and, rather than challenge Aoun directly, worked behind the scenes to solicit support from key Christian politicians and militia leaders.
But, since Mouawad's assassination last Wednesday in a massive bomb blast that also killed 23 others, Hrawi--elected only two days later--has moved swiftly to form a new Cabinet and to turn up the heat on Aoun and his Christian supporters in East Beirut.
However, at least one key Christian nominated to his Cabinet--Michel Sassine--declined his selection as deputy prime minister and labor minister and flew to Paris over the weekend without explanation, Beirut media reported.
George Saadeh, head of the right-wing Falangist Party and a coalition of other Christian groups, also did not attend Sunday's Parliament session and has not yet said if he will accept his nomination as telecommunications minister.
Nabih Berri, head of the Shiite Muslim militia Amal, who has bitterly criticized the Taif accord because it leaves Lebanon's sectarian form of government in place, also failed to attend.
Despite their absences, the 43 Parliament deputies, meeting in the Syrian-controlled town of Chtoura, unanimously approved the new Cabinet, which includes members from all of Lebanon's warring sects.