BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The Hezbollah militant group criticized Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, accusing it of siding with Lebanon’s Western-backed government in its power struggle with the Syrian-allied opposition.
The comments came only days after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal slammed Syria and its Lebanese allies for obstructing an Arab League initiative to help Lebanon elect a new president.
Hezbollah rejected Prince Saud’s criticism and instead accused Lebanon’s anti-Syrian majority of obstructing parliamentary elections for a new president. Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud ended his term last November without a successor.
“This (Saudi) accusation against the opposition harms the kingdom’s role and raises big question marks about its position and role in the Lebanese political crisis,” Hezbollah said in a statement.
In rare criticism of Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, the Shiite Hezbollah said Prince Saud’s comments had put the kingdom in “a biased position incapable of playing a positive role in a solution” to Lebanon’s deepening political crisis.
Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun also rejected Prince Saud’s comments and said he was surprised by “the Saudi position holding the opposition responsible for failure to implement the Arab initiative.” He urged “friendly countries not to be a party to the Lebanese conflict.”
Prince Saud delivered his criticism Saturday in a press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh timed to coincide with the opening session of the Arab League summit in Syria. Several Sunni Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, boycotted the summit and instead sent low-level officials to protest Syrian policies in many parts of the Mideast and its close alliance with Shiite Iran.
Lebanon boycotted the summit completely, accusing Damascus of preventing the election of a new Lebanese president in order to destabilize the country and reassert its control over the neighboring country.
Arab foreign ministers unanimously adopted a plan in January that called for the election of Lebanese Army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman as a consensus president, formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law.
The country’s sharply divided parliament has failed to embrace the plan because the parliamentary majority and the opposition remain deadlocked over the shape of the future government. The majority has strongly rejected the opposition’s demand for veto power over future government decisions.
The presidential impasse has compounded the yearlong power struggle between the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the opposition, which has sporadically degenerated into street clashes in Beirut between supporters of the rival camps.
The United States and Lebanon’s anti-Syrian coalition have accused Syria of blocking the presidential election. Damascus has denied the charge, while its Lebanese allies have blamed Washington for scuttling attempts at reaching a solution.