Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Syria has continued to funnel arms to the Shi’ite Hezbollah militia in defiance of international demands, thus undermining hopes for peace and stability in Lebanon, a Lebanese political leader said yesterday.

Walid Jumblatt, longtime leader of the minority Druze community, is the most senior Lebanese politician to visit Washington since Israel’s inconclusive monthlong war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

The conflict devastated large areas of the country and scrambled Lebanon’s already complicated political landscape.

“As long as the Syria-Lebanon border is not being monitored effectively, the flow of weapons will continue and there will be instability,” Mr. Jumblatt said in an address to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Israeli forces pummeled Hezbollah positions during the war but failed to deliver a knockout blow to the Islamic militia, which has resisted demands from other Lebanese factions and from the United Nations to disarm.

The complaint from Mr. Jumblatt, a key figure in the anti-Syrian coalition that dominates Lebanon’s parliament, came a day after John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said at a Security Council meeting that Syria and Iran — Hezbollah’s two main sponsors — were “actively trying to destabilize the democratically elected government of Lebanon” by re-arming Hezbollah.

Syria has denied the charge.

Israel complains that the Lebanese government and a beefed-up U.N. peacekeeping force now in southern Lebanon have failed to carry out key parts of the accord that ended the fighting in the summer, including disarming Hezbollah and enforcing an arms embargo.

Israeli fighter planes yesterday flew at low altitude over parts of the capital, Beirut, and southern Lebanon to monitor what Israeli defense officials say are continuing violations of the arms embargo by Hezbollah.

Mr. Jumblatt, head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party, has been a central figure in Lebanon’s sectarian politics for three decades as the leader of the country’s Druze community, an offshoot of Islam. He first supported Syria’s military presence in Lebanon but broke with Damascus after the death of Syrian President Hafez Assad in 2000.

He was a key player in the anti-Syrian Cedar Revolution that followed the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many blamed Damascus for the attack, and protests forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon.

Mr. Jumblatt acknowledged yesterday that the image of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had soared in the Arab and Muslim world because of the tough resistance his fighters put up against Israel. But Mr. Jumblatt said demands by Hezbollah and its allies inside Lebanon for more seats in a proposed “national unity government” could backfire.

“We have the majority, not Hezbollah,” Mr. Jumblatt said. “If they topple the government, there would be chaos and disorder that could lead anywhere.

“If Nasrallah was ordered by the Syrian regime not to agree to national unity, it is a very risky game he is playing.”

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