- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) - Lebanon’s Hezbollah group on Thursday denounced this week’s announcement of a new Saudi-led “Islamic military alliance” and the Lebanese prime minister’s decision to join it. The Shiite militant group also accused the Sunni kingdom of practicing “state terrorism” and spreading extremist ideology.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement on Tuesday of a 34-member coalition that includes Lebanon, with a joint operations center based in Riyadh, has caused a split in the tiny Mediterranean country, adding to its sectarian tensions and political divisions.

Being part of such an alliance would inflame two major schisms over Lebanon’s political orientation - whether it is aligned with Saudi Arabia and its Western allies in the international arena, and whether it is a Muslim nation.

On Wednesday, Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, a Sunni, welcomed the Saudi move, saying it is only natural for Lebanon to be part of such an alliance against terror. But Hezbollah and its allies, as well as Christian parties, objected to the coalition.

Hezbollah said Thursday the alliance was a “U.S. project” and aims to create a Sunni armed force in the region to avoid sending U.S. ground troops to conflict areas.

The Shiite group also accused Saudi Arabia of supporting “terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen” and said the kingdom is “responsible for spreading extreme terrorist ideology all over the world.”

Hezbollah said Prime Minister Salam’s remarks “represent his personal opinion” and were not binding because the decision was made outside Cabinet.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry, led by a member of a party allied with Hezbollah, said Wednesday that it had no knowledge of the Saudi coalition before it was announced and that the decision “infringes on the ministry’s prerogatives.”

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