Saudi FM: Hezbollah 'Coup' Will Affect Iran Ties With Arab World

Ahmadinejad denies Saud al-Faisal's accusation that Iran is responsible for Hezbollah takeover of Beirut.

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday Iranian-backed Hezbollah's routing of the Western-backed government's supporters in Lebanon would affect the Islamic Republic's ties with Arab countries.

"Of course, for Iran to back the coup that happened in Lebanon and support it will have an impact on its relations with all Arab countries," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said in a news conference.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday rejected the accusations.

"Iran is the only country not interfering in Lebanon," Ahmadinejad told a news conference.

Hezbollah, the Shi'ite Muslim movement backed by Iran and Syria, and its opposition allies have overpowered supporters of the Sunni-led government in Beirut and hills to the east in fighting that has pushed Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war.

Lebanon's army stepped up patrols on Tuesday as part of a drive to restore order after a week of fighting between Hezbollah fighters and pro-government gunmen.

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 Shiite gunmen from Hezbollah overran much of west Beirut and the offices of Sunni parliamentary majority leader Saad 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 should enter the governmental palace and remove [Lebanese Prime Minister] Fouad Siniora," Wiam Wahab, a Druze member of parliament allied with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, declared Monday.

"This demand is Hezbollah's immediate goal, and it will not retreat from it," agreed an associate of Christian General Michel Aoun, another Nasrallah ally, in a conversation with Haaretz. "This government's days are numbered. One can imagine 1,000 proposals for resolving the crisis, with involvement by the Arab League, religious scholars or anyone who wants to deal with this crisis, but Siniora's removal, the establishment of a national unity government in which the opposition has a veto, and amending the election law are our [Aoun's] and Hezbollah's minimum demands."

A few hours later, Aoun reiterated these demands publicly.

The Christian general's announcement came in response to a statement by former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel, head of a rival Christian party that belongs to the governing coalition: "Hezbollah must promise that it will never again aim its weapons inside Lebanon."

To Gemayel, that is a precondition for any political dialogue. But it also represents a retreat from the government's support for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which demanded Hezbollah's disarmament. This retreat was also evident in the fact that several government spokesmen called for reaching understandings with Nasrallah on Monday, while Nasrallah himself remained silent.

Instead, his troops spoke for him, through their rapid takeover of Beirut and key cities around Mount Lebanon. This included successfully disarming the militia of Siniora's Druze ally, Walid Jumblatt. On Sunday, Jumblatt sounded defeated: He ordered his men to turn over their weapons to the Lebanese Army, and begged Nasrallah not to translate their personal rivalry into a campaign of revenge against the Druze in general.

"Those who previously demanded that Hezbollah be disarmed are now being compelled to disarm themselves," noted one Lebanese commentator. "Lebanon needs to start getting used to the new reality."

This "new reality" has sowed panic among many Lebanese Christians, in part due to rumors that Nasrallah planned to take revenge on his erstwhile opponents. Aoun publicly pledged yesterday that no Christians would be harmed, but that failed to assuage their fears.

The bottom line is that the Arab League delegation due to arrive in Beirut today faces a seemingly irreversible reality that will force it to grant a seal of approval to Hezbollah's political takeover. Over the weekend, Yemen's president said publicly that Siniora ought to resign. And that, it seems, is likely to be the basis for any plan to resolve the crisis.