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Hezbollah Seeks Power To Avert Pressure To Disarm December 16, 2006

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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BEIRUT (AP)–A senior Hezbollah official said Friday that one of the goals of the guerrilla group’s campaign demanding more power in a new Lebanese Cabinet is to guarantee against any future government move to disarm it.

The remarks by Mahmoud Komati, deputy head of Hezbollah’s political bureau, were the first time the Shiite Muslim group has publicly acknowledged a direct link between the campaign and the contentious issue of its weapons possession.

Disarmament of the pro-Syrian Hezbollah is a top demand of the U.S. and Israel, and the U.N. cease-fire resolution that ended the Hezbollah-Israel was in August calls for the powerful force’s arsenal to eventually be dissolved. Hezbollah, backed by Syria and its allies in the government, has resisted the demand, saying it will only lay down its arms when Lebanon has a strong government and army to defend its borders with Israel.

Since October, Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding a greater share of power in a national unity government and in the past weeks have launched a campaign of protests to pressure U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. It and its allies want one third plus one of the Cabinet seats to give them an effective veto over key decisions.

Saniora and his anti-Syrian supporters have rejected Hezbollah’s demands, calling the campaign a Syrian-backed coup. They insist on the opposition’s approval of an international tribunal to try the alleged killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – as well as implementation of the U.N. call for Hezbollah’s disarmament.

Komati said Hezbollah only started asking for greater share in government after the July-August war with Israel and that one of the key reasons was to try to prevent the pro-U.S. government from forcing it to disarm.

“Now we are demanding it (greater government share), because our experience during the war and the performance of the government has made us unsure. On several occasions they pressured us to lay down our weapons while we were fighting a war,” said Komati, speaking to The Associated Press in a huge tent, one of hundreds Hezbollah has erected for sit-ins just outside Saniora’s office.

“So after the war, we had no choice but to demand this guarantee that would give us legal and constitutional strength. If we take the one-third plus one, the government will not be able to impose its decision on us,” said Komati.

Holding just over a third of the Cabinet seats would allow Hezbollah and its allies to bring down the Cabinet if it intended to pass a decision they oppose.

In the past week, Arab League mediators managed to get the two sides to agree on the outlines of a national unity Cabinet, but the rival factions failed to bridge other differences that threaten to scuttle the deal.

Among the points the two sides agreed on, said Komati, was the formation of a unity government made up of 19 pro-Saniora ministers, 10 opposition and a neutral 11th minister. The opposition has proposed that it choose the 11th minister but give the government the freedom to approve the nomination. Komati said the government still hasn’t agreed to this proposal.

The two sides also agreed on the creation of an independent committee to study details of the international Hariri tribunal. However, the government wants the issue to be discussed immediately and swiftly presented to Parliament for approval, while the opposition insists that it be discussed after a new national unity Cabinet is established.

Komati said Moussa’s initiative consists of three phases. The first concerning a unity government and the international tribunal; the second that deals with the question of choosing a new president after the current President Emile Lahoud’s term ends next year. The two sides had agreed on part of the third phase – devising a new election law. However, the government has rejected the opposition’s demand for holding early elections based on the new election law.

Komati said Arab League chief Amr Moussa’s “initiative is stagnant – it’s neither successful nor has it failed.”

Lebanon’s political crisis extends beyond its borders. Washington has accused Iran and Syria of seeking to undermine the Saniora government, while Hezbollah accuses Saniora’s government of taking orders from Washington.

French President Jacques Chirac renewed support for the Saniora government Friday and pressed ahead with plans for an international donor conference in Paris Jan. 25 on rebuilding Lebanon despite the political turmoil.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Saniora met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, hoping he would help Beirut smooth its relations with Syria, a Soviet-era ally of Russia. Syrian President Bashar Assad is due in Moscow for talks next week.

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