KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – In a speech sure to exacerbate divisions back home, pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud on Wednesday praised the roles that Syria and the militant Hezbollah guerrilla group play in his country.
Addressing heads of state and ministers on the second day of an Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan, Lahoud said he was certain that fellow Arabs supported ongoing national dialogue talks between Lebanon’s leaders.
“Lebanon…is confident that its current quest for consensus and unity will be embraced and supported by Arabs, starting by its neighbor Syria, the country that has always stood by (Lebanon’s) its side,” Lahoud said.
“This would strengthen choices expressed freely by the Lebanese, foremost among those is Lebanon’s commitment to its right to recover its remaining occupied territory in the south, notably the Shebaa Farms,” he added, speaking of an Israeli-occupied territory on the border of Lebanon, Syria and Israel.
Lahoud also spoke of the need to protect the national resistance, a reference to the militant Hezbollah guerrilla group, which he described as “a symbol for steadfastness and dignity.”
The final declaration of the Arab summit expressed support for Lebanon’s resistance, or the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah.
“The summit affirmed Lebanon’s right to maintain the resistance against Israeli occupation, using all means,” he said. But Lahoud’s comments were sure to anger the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon, which has been calling on Lahoud, a close Syrian ally, to resign. He has refused.
Relations between Lebanon and Syria plummeted following the assassination last year of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many Lebanese blame on Syria. A U.N.-mandated probe has implicated Syrian security officials in the assassination, though Syria denies involvement.
Following international pressure and massive anti-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut, Syria withdrew its forces from Lebanon last April, ending a 29-year-military presence. The move was followed by Lebanese elections that brought an anti-Syrian majority to parliament for the first time.
The anti-Syrian majority regards Lahoud, whose term in office was extended under Syrian pressure in Sept. 2004, as Syria’s man in Lebanon.
Underlining the crisis, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora traveled to Khartoum in a separate delegation from that of Lahoud, saying he was doing that because Lahoud did not have a full mandate to represent Lebanon.
Some in the anti-Syrian majority have also been calling on Hezbollah to disarm, saying any remaining Lebanese territory should be recovered through diplomatic means, not through armed resistance.
Arab countries, including regional powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been trying for months to mediate between Lebanon and Syria.