BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Hezbollah will “return things” to normal in Lebanon after the government reversed key decisions that had triggered days of bloody conflict, the militant group’s deputy leader said Thursday.
The comments by Sheik Naim Kassem came after a meeting between Hezbollah representatives and a high-powered Arab delegation that is in the country trying to find a solution to Lebanon’s worst crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
“The Cabinet’s reversal of the two decisions is a natural step to return things to the way they were before the two decisions,” Kassem said. “We want a political settlement that will lead, in the end, to there being no victor and no vanquished.”
Clashes between supporters of the government and the Hezbollah-led opposition broke out last week after the Cabinet decided to sack the airport security chief for alleged ties to Hezbollah and declared the militants’ private telephone network illegal. The network is the backbone of the militant group’s communication abilities and power on the ground.
The government rescinded those decisions Wednesday, saying that with the reversal, it hoped for a settlement in the crisis with the opposition that has paralyzed Lebanon for 18 months.
Kassem’s comments also signaled that Hezbollah may end its civil disobedience campaign and reopen roads in the capital Beirut.
But its militiamen on the ground appeared to be taking their time, nearly an hour after Kassem’s speech, broadcast live on Lebanese television stations, key Beirut roads were still blocked with sand barriers, including the one leading to the capital’s international airport.
The recent violence has been the worst internal fighting in the country since the end of the civil war. The Lebanese police said in a statement late Wednesday that the week of violence left 65 people dead and some 200 wounded. The statement listed the names of the 65 killed.
The situation was calm Thursday, and there were no reports of violence across the country.
The Cabinet’s turnaround amounted to a major Hezbollah victory and was the latest sign that the Shiite militant group, by resorting to force, appears to have gained the upper hand in a power struggle with the government.
Wednesday’s reversal followed a full day of mediation by the Arab League delegation, which arrived that day in Beirut. The delegation was expected to announce details of a package deal it had brokered between Lebanese factions before leaving the country later Thursday.
Sunni Arab heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who back the Saniora government, were not represented in the delegation. Syria, which supports the Hezbollah-led opposition, was also not included, as the three countries are considered too close to the opposing factions.
The Hezbollah-led opposition quit the Cabinet in November 2006, demanding more power and a veto over all government decisions. The deadlock has prevented parliament from electing a new president, leaving the country without a head of state for six months.