Hezbollah MPs step up attacks on US over Lebanon ‘meddling’

In this photo from a drone, anti-government protesters gather during separate civil parade at the Martyr square, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon,on Nov. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Updated 24 November 2019

Hezbollah MPs step up attacks on US over Lebanon ‘meddling’

  • ‘We want a government distant from US desires,’ claims caretaker minister.
  • Allegations of foreign interference ‘ridiculous,’ says former Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese government on Saturday widened their attacks on the US over alleged meddling in the country’s political future.

In an interview with the Central News Agency (Al-Markazia), Muhammad Fneish, Hezbollah’s minister in the caretaker government, referred to “foreign interference in our affairs” and said: “We want to form a sovereign government that is distant from US desires and foreign accounts.”
He said that recent statements by former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman had “complicated matters.”
Feltman told a US House of Representatives hearing last Tuesday that most Lebanese people have lost faith in Hezbollah and that there is growing anger against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil for providing “Christian cover” for the militant party.
The comments sparked outrage in Lebanon with Hezbollah and its allies accusing the former envoy of “interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs.”
Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem joined the criticism on Saturday, accusing the US of “meddling in the formation of a new Lebanese government.”
“Hezbollah is determined not to fall into strife,” he said, adding: “I do not see signs of a civil war in Lebanon.”
As widespread street protests in the country entered their 38th day, MP Salim Aoun, a member of the parliamentary bloc loyal to the president and the Free Patriotic Movement, claimed that protesters have created a “political movement.”
“No matter what we give them, nothing pleases them,” he said, accusing international bodies of backing the demonstrations.
“We know who is intervening and what their goals are,” Aoun said.
Amal MP and Hezbollah ally Ali Bazzi asked: “Is it true that there is aim to create a political vacuum and chaos in the country?”
Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin also questioned the motives of the civil movement. Speaking in Beirut, he said that “people’s demands have turned against Hezbollah, and this is a very serious matter.”
Zasypkin urged “the Lebanese parties to find a compromise solution that satisfies everyone on the formation of a government.”
However, former Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush described Hezbollah’s claims of US meddling as “ridiculous.”
“To say that the US is behind a movement that brought thousands of people on to the streets to demand tax cuts and jobs is a ridiculous accusation. Will they prosecute people for high treason?” he asked.
“Hezbollah supporters who are paid by Iran, take up arms, and fight and kill people, are not held accountable. How does this make sense?”
Public affairs analyst Walid Fakhreddine also rejected claims of a US conspiracy, saying: “We have seen these accusations at the beginning of the movement and now they are back. We were accused of treason and of receiving funding for the protests. They do not understand what is happening. People are now in a different place.”
Fakhreddine warned that the ruling class is “dragging the country into financial and economic collapse.”
“They insist on leading the country into bankruptcy. What is required is an independent transitional government that will hold early elections,” he said.
“They think people are revolting because they want to be represented in government. This is not true. The civil movement does not want to share power. We are looking for a homeland. They accuse us of demagoguery. We are a people who want real reform, not their corrupt reform.”


US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 6 min 16 sec ago

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.