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Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr speaking at a press conference yesterday in Beirut. Photo by AFP
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Lebanon will decline any military assistance from the United States that is conditioned on its agreeing not to use those weapons against Israel, Defense Minister Elias Murr said yesterday.

Murr was responding to a decision by the U.S. Congress earlier this week to suspend $100 million in aid over concerns that the equipment would be used against Israel or would fall into the hands of Hezbollah, for use against the Lebanese army.

Murr said that any government that attaches conditions to its aid to Lebanon can keep its money. He added that the Lebanese soldier who fired at Israel Defense Forces soldiers last week, killed Lt. Colonel (res. ) Dov Harari, "acted on orders."

The suspension of aid was announced by the U.S. House of Representatives in response to the incident.

Murr's statements represent an escalation in rhetoric by the Lebanese government, which seeks to maintain its ties with Washington while at the same time cultivating its relations with Hezbollah. After the announcement of the U.S. move Iran offered to step in with its own military aid to Lebanon.

Tehran's ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, met on Tuesday with Lebanese Armed Forces commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji in Beirut. The envoy told Kahwaji that Iran was "ready to cooperate with the army in any area that will help it carry out its national mission to defend Lebanon."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to visit Beirut next month. His foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, met in Damascus yesterday with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The men discussed "the Zionist aggression."

According to a report in yesterday's edition of the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al Awsat, Israel called off plans for a major retaliatory action against the Lebanese army in the wake of pressure from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and officials from Jordan and Egypt.

The report quotes a senior French official as saying that Defense Minister Ehud Barak notified French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that Israel intended to "teach Lebanon a lesson," which prompted the calls asking Jerusalem to reconsider its plans.

In response to Murr's comments, the State Department said Washington would continue to back the Lebanese military.