Monday, October 22, 2007

Hezbollah Warns US Not to Set Up Base

(AP) - Hezbollah's deputy leader warned the U.S. on Sunday against setting up a military base in Lebanon, saying the guerrilla group would consider such a move "a hostile act."

Sheik Naim Kassem's warning came days after a senior Pentagon official said the U.S. military would like to see a "strategic partnership" with Lebanon's army to strengthen the country's forces so that Hezbollah would have no excuse to bear arms.

Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, spoke on Lebanese television Thursday after holding talks on military cooperation with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. He did not say the U.S. government wants to build a military base in Lebanon.

But Hezbollah and Lebanon's opposition seized on Edelman's comments as subtle confirmation of a pro-opposition newspaper's claim that Washington was offering a treaty that provides for bases and training in the country.

"We consider any American military base in Lebanon a hostile act," Kassem told a group of supporters.

Since last year's war between Hezbollah and Israel, the U.S. has increased its military assistance to Lebanon to $270 million _ more than five times the amount provided a year ago _ in a show of support to Saniora's Western-backed government.

Hezbollah has argued that Washington's attempts to boost military ties with Lebanon are a ploy for domination and could turn the country into another Iraq. Some in Lebanon have expressed fears that a foreign military presence in the country could attract al-Qaida and other militants.

Lebanon's top Shiite Muslim cleric accused the Bush administration of trying to force the Lebanese to choose between turning their country into an American military base or face new strife.

"The Lebanese, who have seen the American failure in Iraq ... must be aware that what the administration of President Bush is aiming at is something else other than supporting the Lebanese army," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

In the mid 1980s, bombings linked to Hezbollah by Western intelligence agencies killed some 270 American military personnel and diplomats in Beirut. The attacks helped drive the U.S. military out of Lebanon, ending its peacekeeping efforts during the 1975-90 civil war.

Hezbollah denied involvement in the attacks.