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Hezbollah links Obama remarks to presidential race

BEIRUT: U.S. President Barack Obama was seeking to curry favor with the pro-Israel lobby ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential elections when he accused Hezbollah of carrying out political assassination, a senior Hezbollah official said Monday.

“Obama’s accusation of Hezbollah has exposed his surrender to the Zionists’ dictates and his attempts to rally support of the criminal Zionists on the eve of the U.S. presidential elections,” Hezbollah’s caretaker Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish told The Daily Star by telephone.

Fneish said the motives behind Obama’s accusation were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. and the fact that Obama was addressing the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.

Speaking to an audience at the AIPAC Policy Conference Sunday, Obama pledged that the U.S. would stand up to Hezbollah which he accused of carrying out political assassination.

“Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations,” Obama said in his speech. “So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and we will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs,” he added.

Washington labels Hezbollah, which fought against Israel’s 18-year occupation of a border enclave in south Lebanon that ended in May 2000, “a terrorist organization.”

Fneish said Obama’s remarks carried clear objectives: “Incitement against resistance movements to serve Israel’s security.”

“Obama’s speech showed that Israel’s security and protection of Israel’s occupation of Arab territories are a priority in the U.S. Middle East policy. It showed that Obama is ready to intervene against any party that seeks to defend its country by leveling such accusations against resistance movements,” Fneish said.

Asked if Obama’s accusation could incite sectarian strife, Fneish said he hoped that some parties – a veiled reference to the March 14 groups – would not take the U.S. president’s remarks as “a message of support” for them.

“The Americans have proved that they only care for Israel’s security. America is committed to Israel’s security, oil and the protection of the [Arab] regimes which follow the U.S. policy in the Middle East. It pays no heed to the Arab and Palestinian rights,” he said.

As-Safir newspaper said Monday that Obama’s remarks on “political assassination” and “car bombs” – the first of its kind by the U.S. president – amounted to “a clear and frank American decision to inflame strife in Lebanon and an advanced American declaration of the indictment into the [2005] assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”

In February, Obama marked the sixth anniversary of Hariri’s assassination by reaffirming his support for the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon which is probing the killing.

The STL’s indictment is widely expected to implicate some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s assassination, raising fears of sectarian strife. Hezbollah has denied involvement in the assassination.

In an implicit response to Obama’s accusation against Hezbollah and critics of the resistance, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri defended the armed resistance against Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

“What pains us is that they do not know or they ignore that the resistance came as a result of the Israeli enemy and Israeli occupation,” Berri told a delegation of Lebanese youth organizations.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said that Obama’s speech at the AIPAC conference was only aimed at stirring up strife in Lebanon.

Referring to last week’s visit to Beirut by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and North African Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, Fayyad said: “Feltman’s visit was aimed at opening the Lebanese arena to the complications of the Syrian situation, while Obama’s speech at the AIPAC sought to incite strife in Lebanon as a gift to the Israelis so that they can accept his vision for a [Middle East peace] settlement.”

Fayyad called on all the Lebanese to protect their country’s stability and sovereignty, warning that the region was heading toward major instability.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 24, 2011, on page 2.

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