Lebanon News

Nasrallah open to unconditional dialogue

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link, during a rally marking the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Hezbollah's top military commander Imad Mughniyeh. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah accused March 14 parties Thursday of financing and arming Syrian opposition groups fighting to oust President Bashar Assad, but left the door open for dialogue.

Nasrallah said he was ready for unconditional dialogue with the Future Movement-led opposition March 14 parties, which maintain that the divisive issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal should be the only topic of discussion at any such session.

He also renewed his support for Assad and accused Western and Arab states of seeking to topple the embattled president, who he said had presented a series of political reforms that could end Syria’s 11-month-old crisis.

Nasrallah also lashed out at speeches made by March 14 leaders at a rally at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center Tuesday marking the seventh anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“Why are you fighting with money and arms and all of you in March 14 are involved in escalating the fighting in Syria? In your speeches, you concentrated the campaign on Syria, but on what basis? Is this in the interests of Lebanon and in the interests of Christians and Muslims in it?” he asked. “Do Syria’s laws permit you to send arms and play off the Syrians against each other? I call on you to stay calm.”

Addressing an annual Hezbollah rally to commemorate slain resistance leaders in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Nasrallah said March 14 leaders, who have publicly voiced strong support for the uprising against Assad’s 11-year rule, are betting on the downfall of the regime in Syria.

“They [March 14 leaders] are confident that the regime in Syria will collapse as they were confident in previous unsuccessful bets,” Nasrallah said via video link transmitted to a giant screen. “With regard to Syria, why don’t you be neutral?” he added.

He asked March 14 leaders about their plans for Lebanon if Syria drifted toward a civil war, which he accused the U.S. and Israel of working to ignite, or if Assad survived the revolt.

Nasrallah also spurned Hariri’s call on the party to surrender its arms to Lebanese authorities, saying arms were needed to defend Lebanon against any possible Israeli attack.

However, he did not reject outright Hariri’s call for dialogue on Hezbollah’s arms, a major bone of contention between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the March 14 coalition.

“When we talk about the resistance’s arms, we have one justification: Our arms are to defend Lebanon and liberate the land. Even if there is no piece of arms with any Lebanese, we will keep our arms to defend Lebanon,” he said.“We have said that we are increasing our armament both in quality and quantity. There are known arms and also hidden and unknown arms,” he added, clearly referring to advanced weapons the party is believed to possess. “We always have to keep surprises for the Israelis.”

Referring to Hariri’s readiness for talks with Hezbollah, Nasrallah said March 14 leaders were not in a position to impose conditions on any dialogue or to give guarantees for Lebanon’s stability. “Any call for national dialogue without any preconditions is acceptable and we support it and we will participate in it ... But if the call for dialogue is with conditions, then this is not a call for dialogue,” he said.

Nasrallah added that Hariri’s call for dialogue was “ambiguous” and wanted to know whether such a call was with or without conditions. “Is the dialogue with prior results or without prior results?” he asked.

Responding to Hariri’s pledge to prevent any Sunni-Shiite strife as a result of the repercussions of the uprising in Syria, Nasrallah said: “The one who is keen on preventing strife between the Shiites and Sunnis must work to stop his MPs and media outlets from sectarian incitement.”

“We are for dialogue without conditions and we are open. The choice of the Lebanese is to be with each other. We support stability in Lebanon and the continuation of the current government,” he added.

Nasrallah also ignored Hariri’s call on Hezbollah to reconsider its hostile stance on the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is trying to uncover the killers of his father, by handing over the four party members indicted by the STL. Hezbollah has vowed never to turn over the four suspects.

Nasrallah accused some Arab states of colluding with the U.S, and Israel to topple the Assad regime. “There is an Arab, Western, American and Israeli insistence that there be no solution in Syria and on toppling the regime in Syria,” he said.

In his speech, Nasrallah denied Hezbollah was involved in a series of bombings in India, Georgia and Thailand against Israeli diplomats. “I can confirm that Hezbollah had nothing to do with these bombings,” Nasrallah said.

Israel has accused Iran and Hezbollah of being involved in botched plots this week targeting Israeli diplomats in these countries. Iran has denied the charges.

Nasrallah also vowed his group would avenge the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah security official killed in a mysterious 2008 car bombing in Syria.

“Our revenge will not be against Israeli soldiers or diplomats; it is actually offensive for Hezbollah to avenge a great leader by killing regular Israelis,” Nasrallah said. “But those who are the real targets know themselves and they are taking measures and I say to them: Stay this way because as long as blood runs through the veins of Hezbollah members there will come a day when we will avenge Imad Mughniyeh’s killing in an honorable manner.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 17, 2012, on page 1.




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