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Won’t ‘hand over’ Hezbollah arms at meeting, says Lebanese minister

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

During a meeting this weekend with Gulf Arab colleagues who want Beirut to rein in the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite militia in exchange for improved ties, Lebanon’s foreign minister declared he would not “hand over” Hezbollah’s weaponry.

The news: According to sources acquainted with a draught government letter replying to Gulf demands for greater ties, Lebanon will say that the country will not be a launchpad for actions that violate Arab countries.

  • Lebanon is expected to respond to the terms for healing relations at a conference in Kuwait on Saturday. Relations have deteriorated as the heavily armed Hezbollah has gained more powerful in Beirut and the region.
  • Hezbollah backs Iran in its regional power battle with U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, which accuse the group of assisting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, who are battling a Saudi-led coalition.
  • Hezbollah, which was founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has a militia that is more powerful than Lebanon’s army and has supported pro-Iran friends throughout the region, notably Syria.
  • The organisation and its allies also have significant influence over Lebanese government policies.
  • The Kuwaiti foreign minister’s demands, delivered to Beirut on Jan. 22, include setting a deadline for implementing United Nations Security Council decisions, including Resolution 1559, which was enacted in 2004 and calls for the disarmament of non-state militias in Lebanon.
  • According to a draught of the government’s answer, Lebanon respects UN resolutions “to safeguard civil peace and national stability.”
  • However, it makes no reference of any specific United Nations resolutions or efforts to put them into effect.

What’s going on: The Gulf rift has exacerbated Lebanon’s problems as it battles to recover from a financial catastrophe that the World Bank has dubbed “one of the deepest depressions ever recorded.”

  • Before ties worsened, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab rulers spent billions of dollars in aid to Lebanon.
  • In response to comments made by a former Lebanese government minister criticising the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf states expelled Lebanese ambassadors in October.
  • Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah paid his first visit to Beirut since the rupture. He stated that Lebanon must not be used as a platform for hostile deeds or words toward Gulf Arab governments, and that GCC members were sympathetic to the Lebanese people.
  • Lebanon commits to a policy of disassociation from regional wars in the draught letter, a policy that has been embraced by successive governments despite Hezbollah’s deployment of fighters in Syria.
  • It also commits to bolstering steps adopted by Lebanon in collaboration with other Arab states to combat drug smuggling into Gulf Arab states.
  • Hezbollah’s foes accuse it of being involved in the regional drug trade, which it rejects. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) urged Lebanon in December to improve border controls and take steps to prevent drug smuggling through shipments to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
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