Hezbollah Vows End to Lebanon Government

The Associated Press
Thursday, December 7, 2006; 10:39 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah promised thousands of supporters Thursday that they would eventually bring down Lebanon's Western-backed government, but the prime minister vowed to stand firm against protesters.

It was the seventh day of street demonstrations by Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian parties aimed at pressuring Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to quit in a deepening political crisis threatening to tear the country apart.

In a rousing speech delivered on huge screens in two central Beirut squares, Nasrallah accused Saniora of conniving with Israel during its monthlong war with Hezbollah last summer. He claimed Saniora ordered the Lebanese army to confiscate Hezbollah's supplies of weapons _ his sharpest attack on the prime minister since the August cease-fire that ended the fighting.

"Didn't the prime minister of Lebanon work to cut off the supply lines?" Nasrallah said. He added that government officials had asked American envoys to persuade Israel to destroy Hezbollah.

"Those are the ones responsible for the war, not the resistance," Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah has gained increasing political clout after the war, which began after Hezbollah guerrillas snatched two Israeli soldiers patrolling the south Lebanon border. It wants to topple Saniora's government because it has rejected demands for forming a national unity government that would give the pro-Hezbollah factions veto power in the Cabinet.

Ahmed Fatfat, who was acting interior minister during the war, said Nasrallah's accusations were "not true." He told AP Television News the charges would strengthen the government's resolve.

Saniora's allies have accused Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, of seeking to destabilize Lebanon.

Nasrallah said protests would continue until Hezbollah's demands are met. But he also said he was prepared to negotiate and that the Shiite guerrillas would use arms only against Israelis.

"We are a people that will not be defeated in the battle of wills," he said to roars from the crowd. "We will not leave the streets before achieving the goal that saves Lebanon."

It was only the second time Nasrallah addressed a mass rally since the August cease-fire. For security reasons, he did not appear but spoke via video link.

He addressed warnings from politicians and the army commander that the mass protests could drag Lebanon back to the sectarian civil war of 1975-1990.

"We will not lift our weapons in the face of anyone," Nasrallah said. "We will defeat you with our voices.

The army, overstretched with keeping Beirut's streets clear of blockades and clashing protesters, called for calm for the second time in four days.

"Offering sacrifices for the sake of the nation is not a duty of soldiers only, but it is a duty of all the nation's sons, specifically their political and spiritual leaders," the army said in a circular to soldiers that also addressed the politicians.

Saniora, emboldened by international support for his U.S.-backed government, insisted he would not give in to protesters. He spoke to hundreds of supporters outside his offices, where he has been hold up, ringed by troops, riot police and barbed wire.

"We are standing fast," Saniora said.

Nasrallah's speech appeared to be an attempt to rouse supporters for a massive demonstration planned in Beirut on Sunday.

A Sudanese envoy, who arrived in Beirut on Thursday for talks with the rival factions, said the street protests should end, but supported the opposition's call for a broader-based government.

"The basis of a solution must be founded on the formation of a national unity government and withdrawal of dialogue from the street to parliament," said Mustafa Osman Ismail, the envoy of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Thousands of Hezbollah supporters have staged nightly protests in Beirut, and tents have sprung up in two city squares, shutting down shops and paralyzing the heart of the capital.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, meanwhile, denied his country was interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs. Instead, he accused unnamed foreign powers of using Lebanon against Damascus.

He added that Syria will not send back its army to Lebanon "no matter what happens."

Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon last year under heavy international pressure, after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria's Lebanese opponents blamed Damascus for the killing, a charge it denies.

© 2006 The Associated Press