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U.S. AND UK say Hezbollah weaker after Beirut fighting

PALO ALTO, California (Reuters) - The United States and Britain said on Thursday they believed Hezbollah had been weakened by this month’s fighting in Beirut despite the greater influence the militant group gained in Lebanon’s Cabinet.

A picture of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah decorates a barricade as members of the country's Hezbollah-led opposition remove a protest encampment from central Beirut May 21, 2008. The United States and Britain said on Thursday they believed Hezbollah had been weakened by this month's fighting in Beirut despite the greater influence the militant group gained in Lebanon's Cabinet. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband rejected the view that the show of force by Hezbollah had increased its power.

“Hezbollah lost something very important, which is any argument that it is somehow a resistance movement on behalf of the Lebanese people,” Rice told reporters traveling with her and Miliband on a trip to her California hometown.

“What it is, is a militia that, given an opportunity, decided to turn its guns on its own people. It is never going to live that down,” she said.

Hezbollah won concessions in an Arab-mediated deal reached on Wednesday, including a long-standing demand for veto power in the cabinet. The deal also resolved a dispute over a law for holding 2009 parliamentary elections, forming a new government and the election of a president, expected on Sunday.

Analysts, however, said the agreement was a clear defeat for Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government and demonstrated Hezbollah strength on the ground.

Miliband said Hezbollah had shown an “unacceptable” show of force in the streets which created an “illusion” of its power. More than 80 people were killed in the military campaign by Hezbollah amid fears of a return to full-scale civil war.

“What struck us in subsequent days is that the reaction of the people of Lebanon has been very negative about that. The guns of Hezbollah were trained on their own people. The long term consequences of that are potentially going to strengthen the forces of democracy in Lebanon,” said Miliband.


The Bush administration, which labels Hezbollah a terrorist group, has put a favorable face on the agreement despite the concessions given to Hezbollah and has publicly praised the Arab role in getting the deal.

Rice said the United States was supportive of the Arab League’s role and dismissed any suggestion that the United States was somehow losing its influence in the region.

“This is not the first time that the Arab states have taken on Lebanon without the participation of Europe and the United States,” she said.

Miliband said the Lebanon deal was a “significant step forward”. He noted especially the agreement to elect a president, breaking a six-month deadlock.

Parliament will convene on Sunday to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as head of state

“The failure to elect a president in Lebanon has been an absolute running sore for the past six months or more,” said Miliband.

The latest fighting was Lebanon’s worst civil conflict since a 1975-1990 war and exacerbated tension between Shi’ites loyal to Hezbollah and Druze and Sunni supporters of the government.

Editing by David Storey