'Iran's support for Hizbullah will affect foreign relations'
Associated Press , THE JERUSALEM POST
May. 13, 2008

Iran's support for Hizbullah's "coup" in Lebanon will affect Teheran's relations with Arab and Islamic countries, said Saudi Arabia Tuesday.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called on all Middle Eastern countries to respect Lebanon's independence and refrain from stoking sectarian tensions in the country.

Lebanon has suffered from almost a week of clashes between supporters of the Western-backed government and the Shiite Hizbullah opposition that have left at least 54 people dead and scores more wounded.

"Of course, Iran is backing what happened in Lebanon, a coup, and supports it. It will affect its relations with all Arab countries, even the Islamic ones," said Saud during a press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

"The kingdom calls on all regional parties to respect the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon and to stop meddling in its affairs and inciting sectarian tensions," added the foreign minister from Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Iran and Syria back Hizbullah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, but have denied meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs.

The recent unrest in Lebanon occurred after the government decided to sack an airport security chief with alleged links to Hizboluah and declared the movement's private telecommunications network a threat to the state.

Within days, Hizbullah and their allies swept through Beirut, displacing pro-government gunmen - a response criticized by Saud on Tuesday.

"What is the crime the (Lebanese) government committed? Transferring ... an officer working at an airport or (challenging) a surveillance system?" said Saud. "Would (government) measures taken to stop that deserve such violent, offensive measures, which aim at an annihilation of people."

The Lebanese army expanded its troop deployment to several tense areas around the country Tuesday, hours after it said soldiers will use force if needed to impose law and order.

The army, which is respected by Hizbullah, has played a central role in defusing the violence that started Wednesday by calling on armed supporters from both sides to leave the streets.

However, it has remained neutral in the conflict and did not intervene as Shiite gunmen from Hizbullah overran much of west Beirut and the offices of Sunni parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri.

The army's announcement Tuesday signaled that it could step up its involvement to bring an end to the country's worst internal fighting since the end of the civil war in 1990.

Saud said Tuesday that Saudi officials have continued dialogue with their Iranian counterparts. But he said action on the ground in Lebanon is what is needed.

"Even if Iran and Syria can exercise influence on the situation in Lebanon, does Iran and Syria really need Saudi Arabia to explain to them what they should or shouldn't do in Lebanon?" said Saud. "I believe that every side should do their duty in Lebanon. It's a country that deserves stability."

Saud criticized the presidential deadlock in Lebanon, apparently blaming Iran and its Hizbullah supporters in Lebanon.

"There is a party that doesn't want a president to be elected for Lebanon or institutional constitutional bodies to serve the interest of Lebanon," said Saud.

Army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman is the consensus candidate for president and the army's success in calming violence in the country could enhance his chances of being elected.

Saud said that Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Lebanon for "consultation," but announced that its embassy in the country would remain open.


Original article: Jerusalem Post
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