Friday, May 09, 2008

Day 2: Violence intensifies, spreads to more areas

Day 2: Violence intensifies, spreads to more areas
By Anthony Elghossain
Daily Star staff

Nasrallah accuses ruling coalition of 'declaring war,' singles out Jumblatt

BEIRUT: Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said during a press conference Thursday that Lebanon has entered a new phase of its political crisis and warned that a government crackdown on his party was tantamount to a "declaration of war." Nasrallah stressed that Hizbullah was ready to return to dialogue, linking talks to a government back-track regarding measures taken Tuesday. The eruption of violence is immediately rooted in a Cabinet decision to take action against a Hizbullah communi-cations network and reassign Rafik Hariri International Airport's security chief, General Wafiq Shucair, for failing to prevent Hizbullah's alleged video surveillance of a runway, among other potential breaches. On the second day of anti-government protests and intensifying clashes between government supporters and opposition partisans, Nasrallah held the press conference to discuss "the issue of [Hizbullah's] communications networks, the debate surrounding airport video surveillance and the political crisis now facing us." He described the fixed-line network that connects the group's officials, commanders and positions as a vital part of the military structure of the group, which fought Israel during that latter's 34-day war against Lebanon in 2006. "The communications network is a significant part of the weapons of the resistance," Nasrallah declared. "I had said that we will cut the hand that targets the weapons of the resistance ... Today is the day to fulfill this decision." The cleric also stressed that Hizbullah is ready to use its weapons to defend itself should the government "cartel" seek to impinge upon the rights of the resistance. "We have the right to confront he who starts a war with us by defending our rights and our weapons. We have yet to use our weapons inside the country but will do so to protect our arsenal," he added. "The [government] decision is tantamount to a declaration of war. This [signals] the start of a war ... on behalf of the United States and Israel," Nasrallah said during the conference, which was held via video link. Nasrallah also escalated his rhetoric against a key March 14 stalwart Progressive Socialist Party leader and MP Walid Jumblatt, with whom the opposition has been trading jabs over the airport controversy and the communications debate. The Hizbullah leader said "the current government boss - Mr. Walid Jumblatt - is a thief, a liar and a murderer. He sits there drawing red lines calling for members of the resistance to be taken to court." "The airport is being transformed into a base for the CIA, FBI, and Mossad, which we cannot tolerate," added the Hizbullah leader. "Our honor and fate are more valuable than any other consideration." "We will no longer accept being fired upon and killed in the streets ... We will not accept encroachment against our presence as a resistance," Nasrallah said. "We will shoot once shot at, strike back when struck at." Downplaying the prospects of a Sunni-Shiite rift even as fighting was limited to factions supported mostly by those two communities, Nasrallah said the conflict in Lebanon was between factions supporting an "American-Israeli regional agenda" and parties opposed to any such scheme, irrespective of "religious or communal differences." In response to accusations that the violence signaled an attempted opposition coup d'etat, Nasrallah said that "had we [the opposition] desired to orchestrate a coup, [members of the government] would have awoken in cells or been thrown into the sea."

Responding to Nasrallah, Jumblatt later told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the Hizbullah leader should "call for a retreat from the streets and for the halting of fire if he seeks a return to dialogue.""There is no clear definition of the boundaries of resistance and those of the state. We need to delineate such boundaries in the future," Jumblatt added in response to Nasrallah's claim that Hizbullah would protect its arsenal by any means necessary. "What happened today is enough - this harms everybody ... Druze, Sunni, Shiite, Christian," added Jumblatt, urging a quick resolution of the crisis.

Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea also reacted to Nasrallah's speech. In a statement released by the LF press office, Geagea said: "Despite the rhetorical flourish through which Sayyed Nasrallah sugarcoated his statements today, this was a declaration of war." Geagea also stressed that "the security situation cannot be left as is, with roads block, tires burning and shootings threatening citizens' way of life."

The political crisis in Lebanon has continued to spiral out of control in the two days since the Cabinet decision, and the Lebanese Armed Forces have refrained from decisive action for fear of increasing the violence or splitting the ranks of the service. Amid a five-month long presidential vacuum and tenuous regional situation, the violence has further strained the delicate situation in Lebanon. - With Agencies

Hariri offers to have military take charge of controversial decisions

BEIRUT: The leader of the parliamentary majority, MP Saad Hariri, called on Hizbullah's leader Thursday to work with him to end the fighting that has broken out in Beirut between their factions. In a televised appearance, Hariri called on Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to "pull fighters off the street ... to save Lebanon from hell." Hariri, the son of a former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in a 2005 car bombing, also proposed a compromise on government decisions that sparked street confrontations between his group and Hizbullah. Nasrallah had said earlier that the government's decision to declare the group's military telecommunications network illegal was tantamount to declaring war on his organization and demanded that the Cabinet revoke it and that rival factions hold a dialogue on resolving their differences. The government also sacked the airport security chief over his reportedly close ties to the opposition. Hariri's proposal late Thursday stated that the decisions would be left up to the Lebanese Armed Forces to handle, effectively taking them out of the government's hands. It also stuck to an earlier demand, however, calling for the election of a president prior to a national dialogue. Hariri also urged Nasrallah to lift what he called the "siege" of Beirut, withdraw his fighters and reopen the roads, including ones leading to Beirut airport, which has been paralyzed by opposition supporters for the last two days. Hariri said what Hizbullah was doing is a "crime that must be stopped immediately." The proposal came after a Nasrallah news conference in which he warned he would "cut off" the hands of those who attempt to disarm the group, insisting he did not want to spark a Sunni-Shiite strife. But Hariri countered that the strife was already happening on the streets and urged the Hizbullah leader to work with him to end it. "My appeal to you is to stop the language of arms ... We are entrusted with the unity of Muslims and Lebanon ... It they are in danger, then let us put out the flames," Hariri said.

The opposition has previously rejected government demands to elect a president before agreement on a new unity Cabinet and a new election law. As The Daily Star went to press, Hizbullah's Al-Manar television said the offer had been rejected. - AP, with The Daily Star

Armys says crisis imperils its unity, urges restraint

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Command warned on Thursday that the ongoing violence threatened the unity of the military. An Army Command statement called on all parties to practice self-restraint, adding that the lack of national responsibility is limiting the army's role and ability to restore peace. The army statement said that moving away from dialogue and resorting to violence was a clear departure from the principle of national coexistence. "Everybody will lose if the current status quo persists since security in Lebanon is only achieved through consensus and not through arms," the statement said. The Army Command urged all parties to seek solutions for the ongoing crisis, adding that the army was ready to help find solutions while trying its best to protect people and their property despite major obstacles. - The Daily Star

Berri discusses crisis with March 14 leaders, US and UN envoys

BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was contacted by Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party boss Walid Jumblatt on Thursday in order to discuss how to rescue the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon, the National News Agency (NNA) said. The speaker also remained in contact with key regional and local political figures on the second day of clashes that erupted as opposition factions protested controversial government decisions to sack Beirut airport's security chief, General Wafiq Shoucair, over his reportedly close ties to the opposition, and to take measures against a private Hizbullah communications network. Berri spoke with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin-Jassem al-Jabr, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, UN special envoy Terje-Roed Larsen and US Charge d'Affaires to Lebanon Michele Sison regarding the unfolding situation in Beirut. In the weeks leading up to the clashes between pro-government and opposition factions, Berri, who leads the opposition Amal movement, had called for the return to a multi-party dialogue between feuding parties. The ruling March 14 coalition has argued that the call is an empty one designed to focus attention away from the five-month old presidential vacuum. The clashes, particularly between mostly Sunni partisans of the Future Movement and largely Shiite backers of Amal and Hizbullah, have increased fears of an all-out civil war in the country. - The Daily Star

Higher Shiite Council says government must back down

BEIRUT: Lebanon's Higher Shiite Council said on Thursday that the key to ending the "dangerous crisis" is the government revoking its recent decisions against Hizbullah. The council was referring to the government's decisions to remove the head of security at the Beirut airport, Brigadier General Wafiq Shoucair - who is seen as being close to the opposition - and probe Hizbullah's private phone network. The council said held the government responsible for the escalation and accused it of sowing discord between the Lebanese people. The council described the government decisions as a "big crime" against the resistance and the people who sacrificed their blood in fighting the "Zionist enemy." "Unfortunately, the decisions are a continuation of the summer 2006 American and Israeli war on Lebanon, but today is being carried out by Lebanese hands," it said. Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the council's vice president, stressed that the decisions taken by the government were aimed at "uncovering the resistance in a way that makes it easier for the Israeli Army to target it." - The Daily Star

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