HAIFA, Israel – The Israeli army should not punish the Lebanese government and the country’s civilian infrastructure for the actions of Hezbollah, which refuses to obey the authority of the Lebanese leadership and attacked the Jewish state this week without authorization, Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said in an exclusive interview.
Jumblatt urged dialogue to solve the growing military crisis surrounding Hezbollah’s kidnapping Wednesday of two Israeli soldiers and the firing of missiles yesterday into Israeli population centers.
He also hinted Syria and Iran may have directed Hezbollah to attack Israel.
“[Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah does not obey the government of Lebanon. We (in the government) don’t agree with his acts. But we cannot in Lebanon force him to accept any resolution unless he accepts it himself,” said Jumblatt, speaking to the WorldNetDaily and ABC Radio’s John Batchelor on Batchelor’s national radio program.
Jumblatt is the head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party and is largely considered the most prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese politician.
He said he saw the fingerprints of Iran and Syria on Hezbollah’s actions the past few days.
“They (Iran and Syria) are financially and militarily supporting Hezbollah. It is a known fact that this alliance from Tehran to Beirut is quite a solid strategic alliance.”
Jumblatt yesterday released a statement with other political figures in Lebanon raising the question of whether Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers Wednesday was carried out to free Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails or rather for the sake of a person “whose palace was flown over by Israeli planes two weeks ago” – a clear suggestion Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the most recent escalation
Jumblatt said Hezbollah’s attack and Israel’s retaliation will make it more difficult to persuade the Lebanese militia to integrate into the country’s army, a move he and other top parliamentarians had urged in response to calls by the international community for Hezbollah to disarm.
“We were having in Lebanon national dialogue on how to integrate Hezbollah inside the Lebanese army and we were progressing. Suddenly [Nasrallah] decided to act on his own for the release of Lebanese prisoners,” Jumblatt said.
Following other recent Hezbollah attacks, including a rocket onslaught and border clashes the terror group initiated this past May, Israeli officials condemned the Lebanese government but focused a good deal of the blame on Syria and Iran.
This time, however, Israel mostly held Lebanon responsible and has been carrying out a military campaign in Lebanese territory focusing on both Hezbollah positions and Lebanese infrastructure targets.
The Israeli Air Force bombed dozens of strategic Hezbollah positions north and south of Beirut yesterday. The IAF confirmed helicopter missile strikes to disable Lebanon’s international airport, which Israeli officials say is used to transport weapons to Hezbollah.
A total air and naval blockade has been imposed in Lebanon.
The IAF also bombed several Lebanese air force targets, including bases less than a mile from the Syrian border.
Israeli military officials tell WND the Jewish state has “completely neutralized the Lebanese air force.”
The air strikes in south Lebanon yesterday killed at least 52 civilians, including more than 15 children, and wounded over 100 people, according to Lebanese officials.
Marking a major escalation, a missile yesterday slammed into the major northern port city of Haifa, the furthest a rocket had ever traveled from Lebanon inside Israeli territory. Hezbollah denied it fired the rocket.
Senior military officials earlier had told WND if rockets hit Haifa the IDF will recommend sending ground troops into Lebanon to block missile launch sites.
Jumblatt, though, pressed for dialogue between Hezbollah and Israel, warning against any ground invasion.
“The IDF cannot come and conquer Lebanon again,” Jumblatt said. “After all we have to reckon the past experience of the (Israeli) invasion of 1982 was not that much of a success. It is better for us in Lebanon to have a kind of deal – the release of Israeli prisoners and Lebanese prisoners mediated through the international community. In the past, this is what occurred.”
The Israeli-Lebanese violence was instigated Wednesday morning after the Hezbollah raid against Israel’s northern border military patrols in which two soldiers were kidnapped and three were killed.
Four more Israeli soldiers were killed when their tank hit a mine two miles into Lebanese territory, apparently during an initial attempt to rescue the kidnapped soldiers. The IDF sent troops across the border to search for the missing soldiers, marking the first incursion into Lebanon since Israel withdrew from there in May 2000.
Immediately after Wednesday’s attack, Nasrallah announced a prisoner exchange was the only way to secure the release of the soldiers, who he said were being held in a “secure and remote” location.
Nasrallah called on Israel to free thousands of security prisoners, and linked any prisoner deal to the release by Hamas of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, kidnapped two weeks ago.
Nasrallah also warned Israel against attacking within Lebanese territory.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, declared the Hezbollah attack an act of war.
“It is an act of war by the state of Lebanon against the state of Israel in its sovereign territory,” Olmert told a news conference.
“There are elements, to the north and the south, that are threatening our stability and trying to test our determination,” Olmert said. “They will fail and pay a heavy price for their actions.”
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