Thursday, April 12, 2007

US waging 'covert war' on Hizbullah

Qassem: US waging 'covert war' on Hizbullah
Party's deputy leader accuses siniora's government of collaborating

The Daily Star

The US government is waging a "covert war" against Hizbullah by arming militias opposed to the group, the party's number two claimed in comments published on Wednesday. In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, which took place in a safe house in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Sheikh Naim Qassem also accused Washington for thwarting attempts between the Lebanese government and the opposition to reach a settlement to the crisis that has deadlocked Beirut. "America is forcing the government forces to prolong this crisis, because they want a price for it," Qassem told the British daily. "They want to tie Lebanon into negotiations that benefit Israel and their plan for a new Middle East. US Vice President "Dick Cheney has given orders for a covert war against Hizbullah," Qassem was quoted as saying. "There is now an American program that is using Lebanon to further its goals in the region." The British daily cited published reports saying that US intelligence agencies have been authorized to provide "non-lethal" funding to anti-Hizbullah groups in Lebanon and to activists who support the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

However, Qassem accused Siniora's government of going even further and arming militias across Lebanon. "This happens with the knowledge of the prime minister and is facilitated by the security forces under his command," Qassem was quoted as saying. Qassem's statements echo a report by American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published in late February. Hersh examined the connection between the US, Siniora's government and Lebanese Sunni extremist groups in orchestrating a "redirection" of US Middle East policy toward countering the Iranian threat, as opposed to fighting the threat posed by Sunni extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora strongly denied Hersh's article in February, calling it "totally unfounded," and the premier's office again rejected Qassemm's claims on Wednesday. "The statements made by Naim Qassem are completely false," a spokesperson for Siniora told The Daily Star, on condition of anonymity. "All the elements are untrue." According to the article published in the Guardian, the US has earmarked some $60 million to bolster the Lebanese Interior Ministry's Internal Security Force, which Qassem described as increasingly biased against Hizbullah.

"The Internal Security Forces have not succeeded in playing a balanced role ... The sectarian issue is very delicate when it comes to the security services," Qassem said. Qassem also said Hizbullah did not rule out a new confrontation with Israel this summer like the 34-day war last July and August that killed more than 1,100 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers. "We are prepared for the possibility of another adventure or the demand of American policy that might push the [Israeli government] in that direction," he said. Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has never denied rearming after the 2006 war with Israel.

Qassem's comments come as Western nations increase pressure on the United Nations to examine recent allegations of weapons smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border. The United States, France and Great Britain are pushing for the creation of a special UN expert committee to examine alleged weapons smuggling across the Lebanon-Syria border, according to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz on Wednesday. The push apparently came on the heel of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the Middle East, after which he briefed the UN Security Council on the alleged smuggling. Ban told the council that he had "received information from Israel and other countries" that arms smuggling was taking place along the border with weapons being delivered from Syria and Iran to Hizbullah. He added that arms smuggling would constitute a "blatant violation" of Security Council resolutions, including 1701, which led to a cease-fire after the 2006 war.

Israel also violates the cease-fire by continually entering Lebanese airspace in South Lebanon and maintaining its occupation of the border village of Ghajar, where talks on an Israeli withdraw stalled last fall. - AFP, with additional reporting by Iman Azzi

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