Saniora 224.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanese politicians at the highest levels, in a rare move, publicly criticized Hizbullah's "state within a state" on Thursday, calling for the group to be disarmed and accusing Syria of seeking to destroy Lebanon.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, in an interview published Thursday in the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera, said that the Shi'ite terrorist organization had been doing the bidding of Syria and Iran and had to be disarmed with the help of the international community, once a cease-fire had been achieved.
"Hizbullah has become a state within a state. We know it well," said Saniora, leveling such an accusation for the first time against the Syria- and Iran-backed terrorist organization that effectively controls southern Lebanon.
"It's not a mystery that Hizbullah answers to the political agendas of Teheran and Damascus," Saniora was quoted as saying by Corriere. "The entire world must help us disarm Hizbullah. But first we need to reach a cease-fire."
Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt accused Syria of seeking Lebanon's destruction and also called for Hizbullah to be disarmed. Jumblatt said that Iran had asked Hizbullah to kidnap Israeli soldiers to divert attention from its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
"Syrian President Bashar Assad is destroying Lebanon because he wants the international country to talk to him," Jumblatt said. "He is trying to send a message to the world that Syria is capable of destroying Lebanon and that's why it's worthwhile talking to the Syrians."
Jumblatt said in a phone interview that the decision to kidnap the IDF soldiers was taken by Teheran after failing to reach an agreement with the European Union over its nuclear weapons program. "A senior Iranian government official visited Damascus days before the abduction of the soldiers," the Druse leader added.
"The visit came on the eve of the G-8 summit, which was planning to discuss Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The Iranians managed to change the summit's agenda by putting the Lebanon crisis at the top."
Jumblatt also scoffed at statements by Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah to the effect that Hizbullah is fighting the battle of all the Arabs and Muslims.
"Lebanon is still a democratic country and Nasrallah does not have the right to make important decisions about war and peace on his own," he said. "We will never be able to establish a modern state as long as we have an armed organization."
Saniora, seeking international assistance in disarming Hizbullah, said Lebanon was still too weak to attack the organization's stranglehold in the south of the country on its own.
"The important thing now is to restore full Lebanese sovereignty in the south, dismantling any armed militia parallel to the national army," he said. "The Syrians are inside our home and we are still too weak to defend ourselves. The terrible memories of the civil war are still too alive and no one is ready to take up arms."
The prime minister was quoted as saying that, to disarm the militia, it was also necessary for Israel to help by releasing Lebanese prisoners and withdrawing from the Shaba Farms, a disputed territory that Lebanon claims and Hizbullah uses as a pretext to keep attacking Israeli forces.
Once that happens, "our government will be able to say that Hizbullah has no legitimate reason to maintain an armed militia," he said. "It will inevitably be forced to become a purely political force in our democratic system."
Saniora has said in the past that disarming Hizbullah was impossible while some Lebanese territory is still under Israeli occupation.
Earlier this month, Jumblatt lashed out at Syria, saying he "feared the Syrian regime is trying to turn Lebanon into another Iraq by exporting al-Qaida fighters into the country." He has also accused Assad of being behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Saniora also reiterated his harsh criticism of Israel's air and sea attacks against Lebanon, saying that "Israel's criminal bombardments must be stopped immediately," and adding that these were counterproductive for all sides.
"They are bombing civilians and creating sympathies for Hizbullah where otherwise there wouldn't be any," he told Corriere.
Meanwhile, Lebanese government officials said on Thursday that the current crisis has cost Lebanon's economy more than $2 billion. They pointed out that this year's tourism season was expected to be the best since the civil war hit Lebanon in 1974.
According to the officials, the industrial sector has paid the heaviest price so far, with over 700 factories in West Beirut closed or destroyed and thousands of workers left unemployed. They added that hundreds of investors from the Gulf had fled Lebanon since the beginning of the current conflict. Most were planning to invest in real estate and what had been a booming tourism industry, especially in Beirut.