Siniora: IDF presence in Lebanon 'mother of all ills'
Lebanese PM says IDF withdrawal from south Lebanon would remove argument for Hezbollah keeping arms.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Wednesday called the ongoing Israeli military presence in Lebanese territory the "mother of all ills" and said it must be brought to an end.
"There won't be any valid argument then for the continuation of weapons in the hands of Hezbollah," he told a news briefing when asked about Hezbollah's claim last week to have more than 20,000 rockets after a month of war with Israel.
Siniora also called for the issue of Shaba Farms to be resolved. The area is a small patch of land claimed by Lebanon, but occupied by Israel since it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The UN deems the territory Syrian until such time as Syria cedes it to Lebanon.
Siniora also called on the European Union on Wednesday to put pressure on the United States to play a more constructive role in achieving peace in the Middle East.
Addressing the European Parliament, Siniora said the Arab and Muslim worlds were at a crossroads that could either lead to peace or further extremism.
"Delay in finding solutions is not going to keep things as is," he said. "The situation is going to get more and more complicated. The way to deal with it is to go to the root causes."
Siniora said what was needed was not only a fair implementation of the UN Security Council resolution to end the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, but a resumption of the peace process to create a viable Palestinian state.
"The EU has a very important role," he said. "Specifically, the EU can and must now put pressure on the United States to play a more constructive role, which they have failed to do so far.
"It is about confidence, the people of our region have confidence in Europe and simply do not in the United States.
"Just look at the Iran problem and you can see the importance of Europe in trying to solve a problem," he said referring to EU's leading role in trying to resolve the standoff over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
Siniora said Europe had shown its commitment to Middle East peace by the numbers of troops its countries had pledged to the enhanced UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
Speaking at a rally last Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rejected international calls to disarm and warned UN peacekeepers not to seek confrontation.
Ensuring that Lebanese territory was fully under Lebanese control would empower moderates and "pull the rug from beneath the feet of the extremists," Siniora said.
"This is the way how we can help Lebanon so that no foreign powers will interfere in the domestic powers of the country."
A UN commander said this week that Israeli troops should be out of south Lebanon within days, but Israeli media said disagreements over the disarming of Hezbollah meant this could be delayed.
Siniora: Lebanese doing 'all they can' to ensure gov't controlSiniora said the Lebanese were doing "all they can" to ensure the government had authority over the entire territory of the country and no armed group other than the Lebanese army held weapons.
Siniora was responding to remarks by EU lawmakers, who criticized the Lebanese government over the continuing existence of Hezbollah militias, despite a UN cease-fire resolution demanding the group give up its weapons and disarm.
"The Lebanese have gotten together, including Hezbollah, they all adopted the seven-point plan which states the Lebanese state should be the only authority and should be the only one with weapons," Siniora told journalists after addressing the European Parliament.
"We have to put an end to (Lebanon's) occupation ... then there won't be any arguments for weapons in the hands of Hezbollah," Siniora said.
In a debate with Siniora, some EU lawmakers said the existence of Hezbollah militias is the main obstacle to lasting peace in the country.
"In Lebanon you have something like a state within a state. It is unacceptable for us ... This would be unacceptable anywhere. We have great misgivings about this kind of things," said Hans-Gert Poettering, chairman of the European People's Party, the largest political grouping in the EU assembly after a debate with Siniora.
The leaders of a UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon say the job of disarming Hezbollah is not theirs. And Lebanon's ill-equipped army shows no signs of diving into a confrontation with battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters.
The weak central Lebanese government, which for years allowed Hezbollah to run a "state within a state" in the south, has long argued that disarming the militants could be done only through agreement between the country's major political groups.
"The presence of a militia outside of the structures of a democratic state is not part of democratic vocabulary. You cannot get peace by launching missiles from houses," Italian deputy Cristiana Muscardini said.
Hezbollah has said it would agree to disarm only if the government is strong enough to defend Lebanon from Israel.