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US backing 'covert war' against Hizbullah in Lebanon?

Militant Islamic group says Cheney plan meant to undermine Iran's regional influence.

By / April 11, 2007

As reports indicate the militant Islamic groups Hizbullah and Hamas are rearming themselves in case of a conflict with Israel, a high-level Hizbullah official has accused the US of waging a "covert war" in Lebanon against the organization.

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The Guardian reports that Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qasim, said in an interview that US Vice President Dick Cheney "has given orders for a covert war against Hizbullah... there is now an American program that is using Lebanon to further its goals in the region."

The accusation follows reports in the US and British media that the CIA has been authorised to take covert action against the militant Shia group, which receives substantial military backing from Iran, as part of wider strategy by the Bush administration to prevent the spread of Iranian influence in the region.
According to the reports, US intelligence agencies are authorised to provide "non-lethal" funding to anti-Hizbullah groups in Lebanon and to activists who support the western-backed government of Fouad Siniora.
But Hizbullah accused the Lebanese government of arming groups across the country. "This happens with the knowledge of the prime minister and is facilitated by the security forces under his command," said Sheikh Qasim. The Bush administration recently set aside $60m (£30m) to fund the interior ministry's internal security force, which has almost doubled in size to 24,000 troops. Sheikh Qasim said there was a growing anti-Hizbullah bias in the security services. "The internal security forces have not succeeded in playing a balanced role ... The sectarian issue is very delicate when it comes to the security services."

Sheikh Qusim's accusation comes after contradictory charges of a pro-Hizbullah bias by Lebanese security forces were made last week. There have been growing concerns that Syria – which has long supplied Hizbullah with weapons and financing – has stepped up illegal arms transfers across its border with Lebanon. The Associated Press reports that Walid Jumblatt, the anti-Syrian leader of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party, told Al Jazeera television that members of the Lebanese security forces were helping Hizbullah smuggle arms into the country, undermining the Lebanese government.

"There is a state within a state," Jumblatt said of Lebanon in the interview. "There is a Hizbullah army alongside the Lebanese army.
There is Hizbullah intelligence alongside Lebanese (army) intelligence and there are Lebanese territories that the army is prohibited from entering." ...
Jumblatt, a one-time ally of Hizbullah, turned against the group last year and has been among the most ardent callers for disarming it.

The AP writes that in a speech Sunday, however, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced it would not give up its weapons until the Lebanese army becomes capable of resisting Israeli attacks.

The Hezbollah leader apparently was responding to repeated calls by the country's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority for his group to disarm in line with a UN resolution that ended last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.
"The only solution is that there must be a strong state and a strong army capable of confronting any Israeli aggression on Lebanon," he said.

Sheikh Nasrallah also announced that talks had deadlocked between Hizbullah's pro-Syria allies and Lebanon's pro-government majority, and called for a referendum or early parliamentary elections to resolve the stalemate.