Monday, January 24, 2011

Report: U.S. to End Lebanon Aid if Hezbollah Takes Control

by Haaretz Service

The United States will stop aiding Lebanon if Hezbollah seizes power in the country, the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat quoted a U.S. official as saying Sunday.

Rafik Hariri and Nasrallah

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, May 25, 2001.

Photo by: AP

Lebanon's national unity government collapsed in recent weeks after Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the cabinet to protest against caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri's reluctance to cut ties with the United Nations-sponsored tribunal that is probing the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah fears being implicated by the court's prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, who has filed confidential draft indictments to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's pre-trial judge, Daniel Fransen.

Hezbollah has warned in the past few months that it will "cut off the hands" of whoever tries to accuse "one single member" of the group in the Hariri murder.

In the first reported U.S. comment on the possibility that a Hezbollah-controlled government could rise from the ashes of the current crisis, a U.S. official told Asharq al-Awsat on Sunday that such a power shift could mark the end of U.S. aid to Israel's neighbor to the north.

According to the top U.S. official quoted in the report, congress would refuse to provide additional aid to anyone "taking orders from Hezbollah."

Late last year, two top U.S. lawmakers attempted to hold up $100 million that was approved for Lebanon's army but not yet spent, saying they wanted to make sure neither funds nor arms meant for the Lebanese army would reach Hezbollah.

The U.S. did not, however, withold the aid, with the U.S. State Department voicing strong support for the continuation of the military aid, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledging strong support for the country ahead of the future findings of the UN-backed tribunal probing Hariri's assassination.

Chances for the formation of a Hezbollah-led coalition rose dramatically after Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said Friday his group would support Hezbollah ahead of parliamentary talks on Monday to pick a new prime minister.

With Jumblatt's support it is almost certain Hezbollah and its allies, with 57 seats in parliament, will win a majority to endorse Sunni politician Omar Karami to lead a new government.

"I am announcing the right political stand ... by assuring the steadfastness of the group [Progressive Socialist Party] alongside Syria and the resistance," he told a news conference. Resistance is a term used to describe Hezbollah.

Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday, MK and Deputy Knesset Speaker Majali Wahabi said the Druze leader voiced his support for Hezbollah after the militant organization threatened to conduct a violent take over of his district unless he did so.

Jumblatt leads a bloc of 11 parliamentarians and his support is crucial to decide who forms the government, Hezbollah or Hariri, who said Thursday he will seek to continue his premiership.

Once Syria's ally, Jumblatt moved into the anti-Syrian camp after Hariri's killing, but he has re-positioned himself once again and last year sealed his reconciliation with Syria.

Jumblatt urged all sides to continue dialogue and warned against excluding any party, saying "it will only lead to more division."

In Lebanon's power-sharing political system, the prime minister should be a Sunni, the president a Christian Maronite and the parliament speaker a Shi'ite. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has called parliamentarians for consultations Monday.

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Haaretz Service

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