August 17, 2006

Lebanese leaders hit back at Syria over war

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Anti-Syrian Lebanese leaders accused
Syria on Thursday of trying to exploit the war between
Hizbollah and Israel for its own gain after Damascus partly
blamed them for the conflict.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday likened
anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians who make up the majority in
parliament to former leaders who concluded a 1983 peace deal
with Israel that was never ratified. He blamed them for the
34-day war ended this week by a truce.

"Israel is responsible. But we also must add that those who
are responsible are the ones who encouraged Israel to come to
Lebanon, stood by it, and backed it," Assad said in a speech.

He said some Lebanese groups had a "pro-Israeli scheme."

The United States holds Hizbollah and its backers Syria and
Iran responsible for the war, triggered on July 12 after
Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross border raid.

Saad al-Hariri, the leader of the anti-Syrian bloc in
parliament, accused Damascus of seeking political gain from
conflict in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.

"The regime in Syria is trading in the blood of the
children of Qana, the children of Gaza and the children of
Baghdad," Hariri, son of assassinated former prime minister
Rafik al-Hariri, told supporters in a speech.

At least 28 people were killed in an Israeli air raid on
the Lebanese village of Qana during the war.

Hariri and his allies hold Syria responsible for the death
of the former prime minister last year. International pressure,
led by the United States and France, forced Syria to withdraw
troops from Lebanon after the assassination.

"There is a neighboring president who is threatening to
bring down the political situation in Lebanon because until now
he could not digest the decision of the Lebanese people for the
withdrawal of his corruption and apparatus from Lebanese land,"
Hariri said, standing in front of a portrait of his father.

"On the other side, there is a state which threatens
Lebanon daily in its sovereignty, security, its people and
stability," Hariri said in reference to Israel.

Walid Jumblatt, a Druze leader allied to Hariri, accused
Syria of trying to bring down the government to avoid an
international tribunal to try suspects in the killing of Rafik

An interim U.N. report into the killing released in
December implicated senior Syrian officials and their Lebanese
allies in the assassination.

"The game is clear, you use Lebanon to improve conditions
for negotiating with America," he said, adding Syria was trying
to meddle in Lebanon to avoid being held accountable for the
assassination of Rafik al-Hariri.