Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi warned yesterday during meetings in Ottawa that Hezbollah may capture power in Lebanon following the publication of the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Ashkenazi is on an official visit to North America, where he met with Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay and Defense Staff head Gen. Walter Natynczyk yesterday.

In conversation with his Canadian counterpart, Ashkenazi warned of the dangers that may follow the release of the international tribunal investigating Hariri's murder five years ago.

The committee is expected to name senior Hezbollah figures as being involved in the killing, and Ashkenazi said that the Shi'ite organization's reaction may have serious domestic implications in Lebanon. In an extreme case the group may stage a coup.

Ashkenazi also said that parts of the Lebanese military are collaborating with Hezbollah and are involved in transferring arms to its militia. He noted the visit of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to Damascus for a meeting with Syria's Bashar Assad, and claimed that both men's fathers were killed by Syrian agents, but are now swearing allegiance to Damascus in order to survive in "a tough neighborhood."

Ashkenazi said the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is making solid contributions to security in the area but is unable to carry out all aspects of its mandate because of restrictions Hezbollah is placing on its activities.

Ashkenazi also warned against Iranian efforts to increase its influence in the region and said that for the first time in 60 years, policy in the Middle East is dictated by two non-Arab Muslim countries, namely Iran and Turkey.

Ashkenazi also acknowledged the Canadian contribution to the U.S.-led training of Palestinian security forces, whose performance he said he applauded. He added Israel will be ready to take more security risks in order to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian population in the territories, as long as Palestinian security forces continue to thwart terrorist plots and cooperate with Israeli forces.

Ashkenazi is scheduled to visit Washington tomorrow, where he will meet with top military brass and senior defense officials. At the center of discussions will be the Iranian nuclear program and details about the American defense guarantees that are on offer in return for an additional freeze in settlement construction.