* This interview was conducted the day before the assassination of Lebanese Minister Pierre Gemayel.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Are you planning to take to the street the day after tomorrow?
(Qasim) The opposition has a large program of activities but it will not announce the details of this program. Therefore, it is natural for some to be surprised by the date of any activity. To say the date is Thursday is a personal opinion that has nothing to do with what the opposition has decided.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You spoke about an integrated program of activities. Will your activity begin or end on the street?
(Qasim) It has not been decided if taking to the street will be the first or last activity. We want to keep the initiative in our hand so that we will not fall captive of commitments and of an announced program. What is important is achieving the goal, which is establishing a national unity government or holding early elections. We want to stress that the current government has lost its legitimacy and is incapable of ruling the country or adopting any decision. The issue is linked to developments and reactions and the way to seriously influence future action to expose Feltman’s government.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why Feltman’s government?
(Qasim) Our observation of the government’s performance over the past few months showed that there is almost daily US supervision. There are visits, repeated advice, and endless orders. If we compare the US statements with those made by the prime minister and some cabinet ministers on various occasions, we will find that they are similar in content and language. The US instructions were always there in all the events and developments that took place. The Americans shamelessly announce that they adopt and support the government. We have recently discovered that the consultation sessions failed on the last day because the US ambassador contacted the 14 February group (the majority group) in the afternoon and evening on Friday. He urged them not to accept the opposition demands because they were not forced to do so. He added that the United States stands by their side and will translate this practically. On Saturday, they were united in their effort to foil the consultations and place obstacles.
Commendation and support for the government were expressed the next day by the United States, Britain, France, and other countries. This means there is a certain follow-up pattern concentrating on US adoption of the government. We reject international trusteeship. If we as Lebanese agree among ourselves, we will reach a solution. We will then not face complications similar to the ones caused by turning against the cabinet statement or acting in a manner that harms the resistance and Lebanon as happened during the Israeli aggression. This is the result of the US activity, which put direct pressure on Prime Minister Al- Siniora’s government. In view of all these developments and some other facts that were made available to us, we are facing a US trusteeship government that receives instructions from Feltman. Therefore, we had better deal with it as Feltman’s government. We used to talk about efforts to repair things, but now we have to work against placing the country in the hands of this ambassador.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You accuse them of receiving orders from the Americans and they accuse you of receiving orders from Syria and Iran.
(Qasim) Every side can accuse others the way he wants, but what is important is the practical implementation. Based on the course taken by Hezbollah, the Lebanese and the world can see Hezbollah’s independence and freedom of decision-making. Those who held out in the face of the US-Israeli aggression were Hezbollah’s youth and the Lebanese people. Steadfastness did not require orders from anyone or Somali (as published) assistance. Therefore, when we examine the language used by Hezbollah, we will find that it is a national one. We called for a national unity government so that the others would participate in the political life and have their popular representation. We did not demand this for the sake of Hezbollah, Amal Movement, Syria, or Iran. Iran and Syria say they support the Lebanese people’s right to resistance and to freedom and independence. This should not be viewed as a charge against them.
The United States clearly announced through (Secretary Condoleezza) Rice on the second day of the aggression that it wanted Lebanon to be a gate for the new Middle East. They are clear. They want to use Lebanon to serve their policies. We saw Rice come to Lebanon and meet with the 14 February leaders and ask them to incite chaos between the people and the resistance. There is an exposed interference. Whenever (US President George) Bush said a word they repeated it here. He (Bush) spoke about Islamic fascism and then we heard Mr. Walid (Junblatt) speak about fascism. When he (Bush) said the party is “a state within a state,” we heard them repeat these words. I did not see a difference in the language they use. When we talk about US trusteeship, we do not level accusations but describe a reality. In the meantime, we act in accordance with our convictions.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Saad al-Hariri, head of the Al-Mustaqbal (Future) bloc in parliament, says “the one who is financed from abroad is managed from abroad.”
(Qasim) Let us not hide behind our fingers. All in Lebanon receive foreign aid as societies and institutions or as persons. What is important is the conditional money the United States pays or makes other countries pay to Lebanon in return for fulfilling certain commitments. Lebanon is famous for linking political reform with financial aid. Political reform means political arrangements that are in harmony with the US interests. The problem lies in the aid that does not go to the poor and needy. Lebanon received aid from Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, and other countries. There is nothing wrong with this aid as long as it is not linked to political conditions. We do not think we are meant by this accusation. Mr. Saad (al-Hariri) knows quite well that we make our decisions independently and the funds we receive are not conditional.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about Iranian funds to Hezbollah?
(Qasim) Iran announced a package of aid to Lebanon to rebuild some bridges, places of worship, schools, and roads. It provided family ration quotas. Hezbollah worked on a sheltering project (for those whose houses were destroyed), which cost about $300 million. We got this sum as donations from individuals and institutions, in addition to aid from Iranian societies and institutions. We accept any unconditional aid from any country. Several Arab and Islamic countries sent us ration quotas and some aid because they trust us and believe that we send aid to the ones needing it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You speak of financial aid. What about Iranian political funding of your organization?
(Qasim) Hezbollah is a Lebanese party. Funding is not a problem. The important thing is the party’s political speech and whether this speech or position is affected by anything. I believe that all those who have key political positions in Lebanon, including those who level accusations at us, get political funds in all sorts of ways.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You took part in the consultations held to expand the current government to become a national unity government. Is this enough for you to accept a solution to the crisis?
(Qasim) The question should be directed to the ruling team because it was the side which obstructed government expansion. Had they responded, things would have been very easy and we would not have faced all these complications. We did not base our demands on our victory in the war against Israel. Also we did not make personal demands. We made national demands and gave things one chance after another. I cannot now say what we accept and what we do not accept. Things depend on what the other side presents.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you not fear the possibility of street clashes?
(Qasim) Huge demonstrations have been staged since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri but none said a demonstration provoked another. Things were normal under difficult and complicated circumstances when there was political instability that coincided with assassinations. I recall that there was no exaggeration by any side at that stage. Now we hear all exaggeration from the ruling group, which says the street poses a threat. They always speak of the possible occurrence of a series of assassinations. Some of them said they expected ministers to be assassinated and problems to occur during the demonstrations. If they know all these facts, why do they not apprehend the criminals? This is unless they want to give them a chance to do what they want. There is no problem in taking to the street. There are security forces in charge of maintaining security. Any demonstration staged will be peaceful and civilized. They raise fears with the aim of frightening us so that we will not take to the street. They do so because they know that the balance is lost at this stage. The opposition street is much larger and wider than the street of the ruling team. Moreover, it is meaningless for the ruling team to take to the street. Who will they then object to?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You speak about past demonstrations, which were huge gatherings, but based on what is leaked about the opposition plans some say roads will be blocked and establishments will be encircled.
(Qasim) The demonstrations that may take place will not go to government centers or establishments. They are peaceful demonstrations that will be staged in the appropriate places. True, the aim of these demonstrations is toppling the government. When the government finds that the street is boiling and is expressing its objection in various forms, it will not be able to continue.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Another critical issue is related to Sunni-Shiite relations, which will be affected by the current differences.
(Qasim) We greatly hope that the Sunnis and Shiites will understand that they are targeted by many international and regional parties. We in Hezbollah repeatedly sought to maintain an ideal situation in Lebanon. Many expected events in Iraq and other events to reflect on the Lebanese situation, but secular and political Sunni and Shiite leaders worked effectively to prevent any form of sectarian strife. I do not deny the fact that this issue will remain an apprehension because there are those who spit out their venom and try to create problems. But the people must fully understand that we do not demand the prime minister to resign because he is Sunni, but because he represents a political line which we believe makes the country adopt the US position, something which the Sunnis themselves reject. I do not think they will succeed in fomenting sedition and I have no fears in this regard.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The UN forces spoke about the confiscation of weapons in the border area. Do you think these forces have exceeded the limits of their role?
(Qasim) The UN interim forces announced in a statement that throughout the time which followed the aggression they did not clash with anyone from Hezbollah and no problems occurred with them and they did not see any armed manifestations by Hezbollah. This shows that Hezbollah is not meant by this and that its performance was in harmony with Resolution 1701. Seizing some weapons in open areas is ordinary and normal. Some people may get rid of intact or damaged weapons. We do not see a problem in this. The UN forces perform the task of supporting the Lebanese Army in its effort to prevent armed manifestations. Therefore, if they find a machinegun on the road…
(Asharq Al-Awsat) (Interrupting) They found Katyusha rockets!
(Qasim) These Katyusha rockets might have been left over from the war. This is quite normal. They are like the gunshots that are left over after the fighter has taken his needs of them. The UNIFIL speaks of what it found in an open manner. Hezbollah has nothing to do with this. Hezbollah is not targeted.