Top Lebanese Politician Hariri Says Won't Surrender to Hezbollah

Lebanese army expands troop deployment to several areas around country embroiled in worst crisis since 1975-1990 civil war.

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A senior pro-government political leader in Lebanon, Saad al-Hariri, said on Tuesday his majority coalition would not surrender to Hezbollah, whose fighters have routed supporters of the Sunni-led government in Beirut.

"They simply are demanding that we surrender, they want Beirut to raise white flags... This is impossible," Hariri told a news conference.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese army expanded its troop deployment to several tense areas around the country Tuesday, hours after it said soldiers will use force if needed to impose order after almost a week of clashes between the Western-backed government and Hezbollah-led opposition.

Also Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that Iran's support for Hezbollah's coup in Lebanon will affect Tehran's relations with Arab and Islamic countries.

The rising sectarian tension in Lebanon between Shi'ite supporters of the opposition and Sunni backers of the government has left the army as the only neutral player to help end the current crisis.

The army, which is respected by the militant Hezbollah group, has played a central role in defusing the violence that started Wednesday by calling on armed supporters from both sides to leave the streets.

But it has remained neutral in the conflict and did not intervene as Shi'ite gunmen from Hezbollah overran much of west Beirut and the offices of Sunni parliamentary majority leader Hariri.

The army's announcement Tuesday signaled that it could step up its involvement to bring an end to the country's worst internal fighting since the end of the civil war in 1990, which has left at least 54 people dead and scores more wounded.

Army units will prevent any violations, whether by individuals or groups, in accordance with the law even if this is going to lead to the use of force, said an army statement released late Monday.

One reason the army had largely stayed out of the fighting was the fear that its forces could break apart along sectarian lines as they did during the civil war.

The army statement said troops would prevent armed civilians from roaming the streets. The army called on all groups in the country to cooperate and said its order would go into effect as of 6 A.M. Tuesday.

United States President George W. Bush expressed his support for the Lebanese army on Monday during an interview with Al-Arabiya television, saying Washington would continue to supply and train the country's forces.

"We want to make them better so they can respond," Bush said.

The president confirmed that the U.S. military has moved the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Lebanon, but said it was part of a routine training mission that had been scheduled a long time before.

Hezbollah supporters and their allies were seen in several areas of Beirut on Tuesday, but none of them were carrying weapons. Streets in the capital were busy as more businesses opened, but schools and universities remained closed. Also, many roads were still blocked by opposition supporters, including the highway leading to the country's only international airport.

The tense areas where troops deployed early Tuesday included the northern city of Tripoli that witnessed heavy clashes the day before that left at least seven people wounded. Those clashes largely died down by Monday evening. The army also continued its deployment in the mountains overlooking Beirut and several neighborhoods in the capital.

Army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman is the consensus candidate for president and the army's success in calming violence in the country could enhance his chances of being elected.

Bush said in his interview that the U.S. would continue its support for the Lebanese government and keep up pressure on Iran and Syria, which back Hezbollah. The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has repeatedly called on the militant group to disarm according to UN demands.

The president also called on Arab nations to support Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Arab foreign ministers met in Egypt on Sunday and pledged to send a delegation to Beirut to help find a solution. The delegation was expected in Beirut on Wednesday.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement Tuesday that because of the interruption in normal operations at Beirut airport, the embassy compound will begin receiving necessary supplies and materials via U.S. military helicopters.

The sole purpose for these helicopters is to ensure the continuous supply of the U.S. Embassy for operational needs, the statement said.

The recent unrest exploded out of a 17-month political deadlock between the government and the opposition as each jockey for power.

When the government sacked an airport security chief with alleged links to Hezbollah and declared the movement's private telecommunications network a threat to the state, the well-armed and highly organized militia responded. Within days, Hezbollah and their allies swept through the city displacing pro-government gunmen, as the army stood by.

The army has offered Hezbollah a compromise. It said the airport security chief would retain his post and recommended to the government that it reverse the decision on the phone network. The government has not yet responded to the recommendation.



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