- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government says it has received promises that Hezbollah will cede power in the nation’s south to the national army, but that it is not willing to disarm the Islamist militia using force.

“We are confident, comfortable,” that Hezbollah will give up its arsenal of up to 10,000 missiles that it is using to pummel civilian centers in northern Israel, Mohamad Chattah, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, told reporters yesterday.

He said the government had been “assured” by Hezbollah that it would agree to allow the army to handle security matters.

Mr. Chattah refused to say who was negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah.

He also said the government would not call publicly for the disarming of the militia, a key demand of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

The September 2004 resolution led to Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and subsequent elections that brought Mr. Siniora’s government to power.

“If we say disarm it makes it hard for Hezbollah to give up their weapons,” Mr. Chattah told a small group of reporters yesterday. “Everyone is aware the Lebanese Army is not going there to co-exist with any other force.”

But, he added, “The army will not forcibly disarm anyone.”

Earlier this week, Mr. Siniora said the Lebanese army will send 15,000 troops to the south once Israeli soldiers withdraw.

The U.N. Security Council is debating a series of measures to establish an international peacekeeping force that would supplement the Lebanese army presence.

Such a force would serve as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations and controls southern Lebanon.

The major powers remained deadlocked yesterday on terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the international force.

Hezbollah holds two ministries in the Lebanese Cabinet and 14 of 128 seats in Parliament, but the militia’s power does not stem from its political participation.

Since its founding in 1982, Hezbollah has grown to become a state-within-a-state, with a network of hospitals, schools, an army and a foreign policy that is independent of the government in Beirut.

Earlier this month, Mr. Siniora proposed a seven-point plan for peace that would require Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory, including the disputed Shebaa Farms area now held by Israel.

The plan also calls for a prisoner exchange with Israel and an attempt to map long-buried land mines.

In return, the proposal says the Lebanese army would take control of the south, and it indirectly promises to disarm militias.

“The Lebanese government extends its authority over its territory through its own legitimate armed forces, such that there will be no weapons or authority other than that of the Lebanese state,” the proposal says.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday:

“When the prime minister presented the seven-point plan and [it] was discussed in the government, we dealt positively with this plan.”

In the same televised speech, the sheik also pledged to turn southern Lebanon into a graveyard for Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Chattah said that independent militias have been viewed in Lebanon as a strong deterrent to Israel, but that it clearly hadn’t worked this time.

He indicated that Hezbollah might eventually join the Lebanese army, but not any time soon.

“The central question is will it happen, but not in the middle of a war,” Mr. Chattah said.

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