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Lebanese president tells Hezbollah to end Syria campaign

In this May 22, 2010 file photo, a Hezbollah fighter, stands behind an empty rocket launcher while explaining to the group various tactics and weapons used against Israeli soldiers on the battlefield, during a trip to Hezbollah strongholds, in Sojod village, southern Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah is exposing Lebanon to internal tensions and Israeli aggression by continuing its military campaign in Syria, President Michel Sleiman said in comments published Thursday, in the second such warning by the head of state over the resistance group’s growing involvement in the conflict next door.

“If they participate in the Allepo [north Syria] battle and more are killed in the ranks of the party, then this will lead to further tension. Qusair needs to be end of it and [Hezbollah] needs to return home,” Sleiman told As-Safir newspaper.

Hezbollah has openly admitted to fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in a bid to quash what it regards as a U.S.-Israeli project targeting Damascus and the resistance group. Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said Wednesday Hezbollah was fighting with “honor” in Syria.

There are growing reports that Assad’s forces are pressing ahead with plans to retake the northern rebel city of Aleppo. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said thousands of Hezbollah’s fighters had reached the city. But Hezbollah played down last week reports its fighters were in Aleppo.

Sleiman, in his comments to the local Lebanese daily, said Hezbollah’s actions in Syria went against the group’s legal status at home.

“Hezbollah is a resistance and this resistance has a national day [that is celebrated in Lebanon] and it is referred to in the Cabinet’s Ministerial Statement under the ‘Army, people and resistance’ slogan. How can Hezbollah therefore act unilaterally, leaving the Army and people?”

The Lebanese president said he had been frank with Hezbollah over its venture in Syria and that it posed a threat to Lebanon from abroad.

“I have warned them with all my love on this matter and I did not betray or go behind their back. Right from the start I told them that I am against such behavior and oppose [any kind of action] in the Golan because this would exposes you [Hezbollah] and Lebanon to the enemy Israel,” he said.

Sleiman insisted his stances were aimed at safeguarding the resistance group.

“I said I would defend the resistance [by all means] but I want to protect the resistance from itself and when I find Hezbollah is in the wrong I confront them on this matter and do not praise them,” he said.

“When I spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama recently and he expressed his concern about Hezbollah’s interference in Syria, I told him promptly that we too are concerned of interference from all Lebanese sides in Syria and that we [were unanimous] over the ‘Baabda Declaration’ to prevent interference but that regrettably different sides did not abide by [the pact].”

In 2011, Lebanese political leaders agreed to distance Lebanon from regional developments and crises. That pact came to be known as the “Baabda Declaration.” The Lebanese government has also an avowed policy of dissociating itself from the crisis next door.

In his comment to As-Safir, the president also referred to his recent decision to submit a memo to the United Nations detailing violations to Lebanese territory by the warring sides in Syria.

After stressing that his relationship with Syria was far better than some of “its allies are with it,” Sleiman asked: “But who initiated the complaint to the United Nations and the head of the Security Council? Us or the Syrian side at a time when we were adamant on resolving the issue bilaterally.”

The president has come under fire from Syria’s allies in Lebanon over the memorandum.

Baath Party MP Assem Qanso lashed out at the president Wednesday, accusing him of “high treason” over the memo.

 

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