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Jumblatt questions Hizbullah's allegiance

As progress was being made in ending Lebanon's Cabinet crisis, MP Walid Jumblatt launched a fiery attack against Hizbullah Sunday, questioning the party's determination to maintain its arms indefinitely. Jumblatt indirectly addressed the resistance, saying: "To those who hold the rifle today we say, 'thank you, the South is free'; to whom is your allegiance now, Lebanon or other countries?"

"We don't want to be in the middle of an axis that starts in the Mediterranean and ends in Tehran," Jumblatt added, in reference to the Shiite party's relations with Syria and Iran.

Jumblatt demanded that Lebanon's Shiite ministers - who walked out of a Cabinet meeting in early December and subsequently suspended their participation in the government in protest against a decision to request an international investigation into the series of assassinations targeting the country over the past year-and-a-half - should explain their recent positions.

"We tell them you left the meeting maybe to escape, because the Syrian regime does not want an international tribunal," he said. "We knew when we asked for an international tribunal the ruler of Damascus will not accept it. If they want the truth, why are they dodging the call for an international tribunal?"

The Druze leader further implied a possible link between the series of killings and Hizbullah.

"There are 'security islands' that harbor a load of wired cars ... and as we all know, the state cannot investigate or interrogate people in some of the areas inside these security islands," he said.

Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamade, a member of Jumblatt's parliamentary bloc, said recently he had information proving the car used in his assassination attempt was wired in Beirut's Southern Suburbs - Hizbullah's heartland.

"We tell them a party that was able to defeat Israel can help the Lebanese investigation in uncovering the truth ... Unless they have something to hide," he said. "We say if your conscience was clear, you would facilitate [the request for an] international tribunal."

The Druze leader also said the Shebaa Farms are not Lebanese, and condemned the recent use of the term "Shebaa area" instead of Shebaa Farms by Hizbullah in a draft agreement with the Cabinet majority.

"We used to talk about the Farms, and then these farms expanded and turned into an area ... those who know the area know that the Shebaa area is a region that starts in Shebaa and ends in (the Syrian) Golan Heights, which means that there is an attempt to stretch the struggle forever under the slogan of freeing Shebaa Farms, which is not Lebanese, not Lebanese, not Lebanese," Jumblatt asserted.

The Shebaa Farms is a strip of land between Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Israel and the United Nations say the territory belongs to Syria, while Lebanon claims it is Lebanese with verbal support from Syria, but no official documentation.

Since the liberation of South Lebanon in 2000, Hizbullah has maintained its weapons under the pretext of liberating the Farms. However, more than five years after the Israeli withdrawal, the Syrian government has not acknowledged the area is Lebanese, thus triggering the Lebanese anti-Syrian movement to ask for a demarcation of the borders between the two countries. Hizbullah has refused the delineation demands under the pretext the current regional situation does not allow for such a move.

"Shebaa Farms is not Lebanese and the Syrian regime is not going to give us a property deed to the area," Jumblatt said. "Telling us we cannot demarcate the borders in light of the current tensions is something stupid."

He added: "South Lebanon is liberated, UN Resolution 425 is implemented, and we should stop dodging this fact."

A source within the resistance said Hizbullah refused to comment on Jumblatt's statements as part of the party's decision not to get into a "war of words" with the Druze leader.

However, Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah called for "preserving the rules of political conduct in dealing with each other, through adopting a calm tone ... and refraining from insulting institutions that enjoy respect and admiration within a vast majority of the Lebanese."

He added: "No matter how stiff and tense the political situation gets, we will maintain our national identity. No matter what happens, the weapon of the resistance has one direction, and that is the Israeli enemy."

Fadlallah also commented on the ongoing dialogue with the Cabinet majority to solve

the government crisis, saying talks were "steadily going in the right direction."

"What we want right now is a clear and concise text that determines the government's stance regarding the resistance," Fadlallah said.

The latest domestic developments unfolded as Premier Fouad Siniora met with Parliament majority leader MP Saad Hariri in Jeddah Saturday, and was expected to meet with Speaker Nabih Berri soon to discuss the Shiite ministers' return to Cabinet. Media outlets had reported Sunday that a six-point agreement had been reached in Saudi Arabia between Siniora, Hariri and Berri to facilitate the return of the Shiite ministers.

The points include an acknowledgement that Hizbullah is a legitimate resistance group and not a militia, an agreement to downplay UN Resolution 1559, adopting consensus in Cabinet rather than a majority vote, referring to Shiite representatives in Cabinet before the appointment of any Shiite in any top public posts, postponing the discussion over Palestinian weapons currently, and considering the call for an international tribunal effective.

However, a spokesman in Siniora's office told The Daily Star that no agreement had been reached.

"No decision will be taken before the premier returns from Saudi Arabia. All we can say at this stage is that there is positive development on the level of dialogue, but this dialogue will keep rolling until Siniora and Berri are back," the spokesman said.

Beirut 09-01-2006
Majdoline Hatoum
The Daily Star



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