Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly referred to Fouad Siniora as Lebanon's president. He is the prime minister.

In Lebanon, a Call for U.S. Action

A Druze man runs in an area south of Beirut that came under attack by Hezbollah. Lebanon's army has vowed to use force to stop the violence.
A Druze man runs in an area south of Beirut that came under attack by Hezbollah. Lebanon's army has vowed to use force to stop the violence. (By Bela Szandelszky -- Associated Press)
By Thomas Erdbrink and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BEIRUT, May 12 -- Politicians in Lebanon's Western-backed governing coalition criticized the United States on Monday for not doing enough to counter the opposition Hezbollah movement's recent takeover of West Beirut.

At the same time, President Bush, who will visit the Middle East this week, vowed continued support for the Lebanese government and its military, which announced that it would take a greater role in containing violence.

Christian, Sunni and Druze politicians -- members of a coalition known as March 14 -- said U.S. statements on the crisis have been too weak and called for more pressure on Hezbollah and its Syrian backers. The politicians said they felt abandoned by the United States.

The coalition members also want the United States to take the initiative in broadening a U.N. resolution that would place Beirut's airport and harbor in the hands of international peacekeeping troops.

"We need the U.S., but we are hearing nothing substantial from them," said Nayla Mouawad, a cabinet minister and leading member of the March 14 coalition.

Hezbollah is ideologically inspired by Iran, which backs the organization financially and militarily. "Iran is turning Lebanon into a Mediterranean forward post," Mouawad said.

Bush, in a statement Monday, promised continued U.S. support for Lebanese President Fouad Siniora and Lebanon's military. "The international community will not allow the Iranian and Syrian regimes, via their proxies, to return Lebanon to foreign domination and control," Bush said.

In an earlier interview with the al-Arabiya television network, Bush said he personally admired Siniora. "We will help him," Bush said.

One March 14 politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called for "tactical strikes" against Syria to pressure the government to rein in Hezbollah.

Bush, in the interview, offered a stock reply to a question about the possibility of U.S. military action: "There's always that option."

The Pentagon denied reports that the USS Cole, a U.S. warship that appeared off the coast of Lebanon in February, was again on its way to the Lebanese coast. A U.S. Navy official said the Cole is in the eastern Mediterranean.

A Hezbollah spokesman said the Shiite movement had detected no meaningful international support for the government. "Foreign embassies did not come to their help," Hussein Khalil said during a televised news conference Monday, referring to the March 14 politicians. Siniora "is under the illusion that he can disarm us, to fulfill the American dream of a Lebanon without resistance, in which Israel has a hand."

The United States and other Western nations strongly supported the March 14 coalition, which in 2005 organized huge anti-Syrian demonstrations after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The demonstrations, in combination with international pressure, led to the departure of the Syrian army and other institutions from Lebanon..

A political crisis erupted in 2006 after Shiite ministers resigned from the cabinet, and it has left the country without a president since last November. Last week violence broke out after Hezbollah and allied fighters took over West Beirut to protest government decisions that Hezbollah saw as infringing on its rights.

According to figures provided by the Lebanese internal security forces, at least 58 people died and 198 were wounded during the clashes that started Wednesday. The fighting is considered the worst sectarian violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Lebanon's army, one of the very few nonsectarian institutions in the country, has announced that, beginning Tuesday, it will use force to stop the violence. Until now, the army has largely stood by as members of different sectarian and political groups fought in northern and eastern Lebanon and in Beirut, the capital.

Wright reported from Washington.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company