Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that a Lebanese government crackdown on his group was tantamount to a "declaration of war," after the government launched a probe into a Hezbollah communication network.
Violent clashes broke out in several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital of Beirut shortly after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah blamed the Lebanese government for the country’s current crisis.
Gunfire and explosions rocked many mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut, where Hezbollah supporters have been locked in a tense standoff with government supporters.
Shortly before the clashes erupted, Hezbollah’s fiery chief issued a stark warning to the Lebanese government during a rare press conference via video link.
“Should anyone attempt to seize our weapons, we would turn them against him in order to defend our rights,” warned the Hezbollah chief, in the first indication that his militia would be ready to fire on fellow Lebanese citizens. So far, Nasrallah had repeatedly stressed that weapons would only be aimed at neighboring Israel.
Nasrallah also warned that the government’s attempts to investigate the Shiite movement’s communications network were e tantamount to a “declaration of war.”
He was referring to Tuesday’s decision to launch a probe into a communications network allegedly set up by Hezbollah. The pro-Syrian militia is also accused of fitting surveillance cameras at Beirut international airport. This prompted the government to sack the head of airport security, Wafic Choucair, over his alleged links to Hezbollah.
Taking a firm line, Nasrallah urged the government to step back from decisions that “serve Israel and the United States,” and are designed to “trigger a war” against his movement. In particular, the Hezbollah chief took jabs at the government and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora for “being in the pay of the US.”
The fiery speaker also justified setting up a communications network for his movement, suggesting it was not merely “part of its arsenal but rather the very foundation of the armed resistance.”
In the aftermath of the civil war that ripped Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, Hezbollah was the only faction allowed to retain its weapons – a decision justified at the time by the need to resist Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon.
In his speech Thursday, Nasrallah suggested that an end to the current crisis was only possible through a “withdrawal of the government’s decisions and a return to the negotiating table.”
Reacting to the speech, Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, a leader of the “March 14 Alliance,” said the Shiite leader’s statements amounted to “a call for the murder” of senior figures in the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority.
The March 14 Alliance is a coalition of anti-Syrian political parties and independents, led by Saad Hariri, son of slain Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri
Beirut airport remains shut
Opposition forces continued their protests Thursday, a day after clashes broke out between government and opposition supporters amid a general strike in favour of pay rises.
Hezbollah and its Shia allies began blocking access routes to Beirut’s international airport, as well as key roads in the Lebanese capital Wednesday.
These clashes, which began during a general strike called by labour unions over price rises, quickly degenerated into confrontations between Shia opposition supporters and followers of the Future Movement party, lead by Saad Hariri, a Sunni and the son of assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The international airport, situated in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, was closed Thursday and flights were cancelled.
The Lebanese military, one of few non-partisan institutions in a country rapidly dividing along sectarian lines, has warned that the situation threatened its unity. "If the situation continues, everyone will lose and that will undermine the unity of the military institution," said an official statement from the Lebanese Army central command.
For his part, Rachid Kabbani, a senior Lebanese Sunni cleric, strongly condemned Hezbollah’s actions late Wednesday evening, calling on the Shia group to evacuate occupied roads as well as access routes to the airport. Kabbani also issued a call to other Arab and Muslim governments to intervene in the current crisis.
Lebanon is experiencing its more serious political crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990, and has been without a head of state since Nov. 24, due to an internal power struggle between pro and anti-Syrian political groups.
Date created : 2008-05-08