Lebanon Tensions Rise in Clash With Hezbollah

Tensions in Lebanon between Hezbollah and its rivals mounted yesterday with the Shi'ite faction's leader threatening "war" and U.N. Security Council members urging all parties to remain calm and work together toward a peaceful resolution.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the government's decision Tuesday to declare the group's military telecommunications network illegal was tantamount to declaring war on the organization, and demanded that the government revoke it.

The government says the telecom network is a threat to state security. The government also said it would dismiss the security chief of the country's only international airport because he was suspected of ties to Hezbollah.

Nasrallah said the airport security chief, Major General Wafiq Shukeir, will stay in his post, threatening that "anyone who takes his post, irrespective of religion, knows the outcome of his decision."

During a press conference at his hideout via videolink yesterday, Nasrallah threatened to cut off the hands of anyone who attempted to disarm the group. But he insisted he did not want to spark Sunni-Shi'ite strife. "Those who try to arrest us, we will arrest them. Those who shoot at us, we will shoot at them. The hand raised against us, we will cut it off," Nasrallah said.

Responding to Nasrallah, Sunni leader Saad Hariri called for Hezbollah to work with him to bring an end to fighting that had broken out in Beirut. Appearing on television yesterday, Hariri called on Hezbollah "to pull fighters off the street ... to save Lebanon from hell."

Hariri also proposed a compromise on the government's decision to disband Hezbollah's military telecommunications network, suggesting that the matter be left up to the army command.

Last night, the U.N. Security Council urged calm and called for a presidential election immediately so that a national dialogue can be held among rival factions.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah blocked access to Beirut International Airport, causing national airline MEA to cancel its flights and cutting off Lebanon from much of the world.

This was presumably linked to the decision to replace the airport security chief, whom Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused of assisting Hezbollah with intelligence information - monitoring pro-government politicians and foreign dignitaries.