US envoy's convoy attacked in Lebanon

Up to a hundred Hizbullah supporters pelt convoy with stones, chant anti-US slogans; nobody hurt.

Hizbullah march 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah march 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah's Shiite supporters attacked a top US diplomat's motorcade with stones in southern Lebanon on Wednesday, protesting her first visit to the guerilla group's stronghold, witnesses said. Security officials and witnesses said no one was hurt in the attack, but at least one of the US convoy's 10 bulletproof vehicles was hit and broke down. The attack occurred Wednesday afternoon after US Charge d'Affaires Michele Sison inspected some social and educational projects financed by the US government in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, a Hizbullah stronghold. Sison was having lunch at the residence of Abdullah Bitar, the head of Nabatiyeh's business organization, when about 100 Hizbullah supporters gathered outside the house and began shouting anti-US slogans, witnesses said. "Death to America!" the protesters shouted. Sison and the accompanying delegation interrupted their lunch and left the town, witnesses said. US officials were not immediately available to comment on the incident. A Lebanese security official said the back shield of one of the convoy's vehicles sustained cracks after it was hit with stones. The vehicle broke down and had to be towed to a police barracks in Nabatiyeh, the official said. He and other security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media, and witnesses also requested anonymity out of security concerns. A Hizbullah official in Beirut refused to comment, saying he had no knowledge of the incident. It was Sison's first visit to southern Lebanon since she arrived in the country in January. The attack came two days after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Beirut, putting an American stamp of approval on plans for a new government in Lebanon that would increase the power of Hizbullah operatives. The US regards the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hizbullah as a terrorist group and has no dealings with it. Though rare now, attacks on US diplomats and interests in Lebanon were once common. Washington blames Hizbullah for the bombing deaths of 241 US Marines at their Beirut barracks in 1983, as well as for two attacks on the US Embassy in Beirut and the 1985 TWA hijacking that killed an American serviceman on board. Hizbullah denies the accusations and says it now opposes terrorism. The first such attack in Lebanon in more than two decades was a car bomb that targeted a US Embassy vehicle north of Beirut in January, killing three passers-by and wounding 26 others. Hizbullah, which is both an armed group and a political party, gained veto power over the Western-backed government in an agreement last month that ended an 18-month political stalemate. The deal followed bloody sectarian street clashes between Hizbullah's Shiite supporters and pro-government Sunni loyalists that left 81 people dead.