- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Lebanon’s best-known Shi’ite cleric, in an interview, has denied links to the militant Hezbollah group and said the United States was to blame for the political stalemate that has paralyzed the government in Beirut.

Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said the United States was preventing a power-sharing deal between Lebanon’s various Muslim and Christian factions because of Washington’s larger interests in stabilizing Iraq, protecting Israel, and containing Iran and Syria.

“America regards Lebanon as an arena to manage its struggle against the parties that oppose American policy,” the 72-year-old ayatollah said in an exclusive interview yesterday with The Middle East Times, an affiliate newspaper of The Washington Times.

“Therefore, the Lebanese crisis is jointly linked to the regional crisis, because America wants to pressure Syria and Iran,” he added.

The Shi’ite cleric refused to condemn suicide attacks, saying “martyr operations” could be justified in cases such as Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers.

“When there is war and this is the only method to stop Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, one has the right to resort to this method,” he said.

Often described as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, which the U.S. government has deemed a terrorist organization, the ayatollah denied he had any “integrated relationship” with the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.

“There is no coordination in the sense that is spoken about,” he told The Middle East Times. “I’ve had an Islamic-based political line for more than 20 years before the birth of Hezbollah and other parties. … I am not part of any group, but am an independent Islamic religious authority.”

The Bush administration has strongly backed the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

But a deadlock with the Hezbollah-led opposition has left the country without a working government. U.S. officials say Iran and Syria, both with strong links to Hezbollah, are to blame for the political paralysis.

But the ayatollah played down the chances for a renewal of a civil war like the sectarian strife that racked the country for more than a decade in the 1970s and 1980s. He said Lebanon’s deep divisions stem more from political motives than from divisions between Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shi’ites.

“If the Lebanese were fair to themselves and believed in their nation and were loyal to the Lebanese people, they could resolve this crisis in half an hour,” he said. “The details of their differences are not substantial or vital, they stem from external motivations.”

Ayatollah Fadlallah said he had “no problem” with the American people, but vowed to continue to oppose U.S. government policies in the Muslim world.

“Our problem is with the American administration, this present administration, which occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and which incited sedition, problems and struggles in the region,” he said.

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