Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Stanley Nkwazema And Constance Ikokwu, "Nigeria: Hezbollah's Fighting Our Cause, Says Consul General," This Day (Lagos), August 1, 2006.

The Consul General of Lebanon in Nigeria, Chawki Bou Nassar, has said Hezbollah, the militant group whose activities sparked the current Israeli bombardment of the country, is fighting the cause of Lebanon.

Nassar also told THIS DAY yesterday in Lagos that the group led by fiery cleric Hassan Nasrallah was committed to a cease-fire, adding that the organisation and the Lebanese government had authorised the Speaker of the Parliament, Hon. Nabil Berri to negotiate a truce with the Israeli government.

He said: "Hezbollah made it clear that it has no intention to attack Israel for any other reason other than the Lebanese reason. Hezbollah will not fight Israel for the Palestinian cause or for the Syrian Golan Height. It made it very clear and the Lebanese government made it very clear.

"Israel should withdraw from Sheba Farms and release prisoners and there will be an end to this conflict. And hopefully in the future we will have comprehensive peace process in the Middle East with Israel, with all the Arab states when Israel withdraws its troops from the occupied territories," he said.

He further stated that the Lebanese government was fully in support of the activities of Hezbollah, which Israel and the international community had described as a terrorist organisation and the cause of the recent crisis that had claimed many lives on both sides.

Nassar justified the organisation's activities saying Lebanon acted in self defence.

Nassar, who said Leba-non has a population of less than four million and 18 religious denominations, stated emphatically that "Hezbollah will not fight Israel for any cause but for the withdrawal from Lebanese land."

He added that Hezbollah attacks was fuelled by Israel's occupation of some parts of Lebanon, including the Sheba Farms while adding that Syria and Iran had been helping Hezbollah politically but denied allegations that this has fuelled the crisis.

"There are accusations all the time that Hezbollah is an ally to Iran. Politically, yes and maybe it is true that Iran and Syria are helping Hezbollah maybe financially. But Hezbollah is fighting for Lebanese goals. As we have said before, we have Lebanese occupied territories and we have Lebanese prisoners and that is why all this fight is for Lebanese cause. It has nothing to do with Syria or Iran at all," he said.

Nassar also said that Hezbollah activities would not disrupt peace after a cease-fire. According to him, "The Lebanese army will be in South Lebanon. It is already there but it will be a very effective force in co-operation with the international force, they will put an end to all hostilities in South Lebanon. Hezbollah itself has made it very clear that we have no problem with Israel."

As the international community desperately tries to achieve a cease-fire in the raging conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah that has resulted in Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, the country may have lost about $9 billion in three weeks of fierce fighting.

According to Nassar, the loss is particularly devastating because it surpasses the annual budget of the country which stands at a mere $7 billion.

He disclosed that Lebanon which depends heavily on tourism to boost its economy had lost an expected $3 billion from that sector alone explaining that the country expected 1.8 million tourists by the end of August this year, but so far only 1.2 million people made it while those who were caught in the web have fled for their lives due to the unsafe situation resulting from the conflict.

Commenting on the Israeli attack on Qana last Sunday that killed more than 56 people, Nassar said Israel deliberately targeted civilians.

Reminded that Israel explained the difficulty in distinguishing between Hezbollah and civilians because of their mode of operation within the civilian population, the envoy said those were mere excuses because the militant organisation, according to him, was easily identifiable.

He said most of Hezbollah members are from Southern Lebanon and would therefore not operate in a way as to expose their families to danger, adding that the movement consist of professionals who act as such. And that "they targeted Israeli soldiers rather than civilians in their attacks."

Asked whether the conflict could snowball into a regional war, he said: "We hope not because if it will be a regional war it will be a widespread violence all over the area. There is a lot of hatred in the area unfortunately because of Israeli behaviour.

"But we hope that the United Nations and the international community and the United States will exert more pressure on Israel to force an immediate cease fire and after that negotiations will start and we can find solution to old standing problems," he said.
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