Lebanon, seeking calm, reverses decisions that angered Hezbollah

Times Staff Writer

The Lebanese government late Wednesday formally rescinded decisions that sparked days of violence in the country, a move aimed at easing tensions between American- and Iranian-backed political camps vying for power in the country.

During a visit by mediating Arab foreign ministers, Lebanon’s information minister said the government would back off on decisions announced last week to declare illegal the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah’s private fiber-optic telecommunications network and to fire the pro-Hezbollah head of security at Beirut’s international airport.

“Since the government is greatly concerned with the higher interest, the government decided to approve the rescinding of the two decisions,” Ghazi Aridi, the minister, said in a televised appearance.

Supporters of the Hezbollah-led opposition responded to the 11 p.m. announcement by firing automatic weapons into the air in celebration throughout the country.


Lebanon has been mired in a deepening political crisis since a late-2006 dispute between the Western-leaning government and the opposition over power sharing. The deadlock has left the country without a president since November.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned May 8 that the decisions announced two days earlier amounted to a serious provocation that challenged the group’s self-proclaimed status as leader of the resistance to Israeli and American plans for the region.

In response, Hezbollah and its allies last week shut down the airport by blocking surrounding roads and then launched a ferocious offensive.

Heavily armed fighters briefly occupied West Beirut and assaulted the political and paramilitary offices of pro-government groups in a move that stunned the region and upset the country’s delicate political balance. Scores were killed in the capital, the northern city of Tripoli and the mountain villages southeast of Beirut.


The violence, which has eased in the last two days, took on an unsettling sectarian character, with Shiite and Sunni Muslims engaging in tit-for-tat attacks that resembled the fighting in Iraq.

Hezbollah said it would unblock roads to the airport and within Beirut only if the government rescinded its decisions. But Aridi’s statement Wednesday was hardly contrite. The minister accused Hezbollah of using the initial government decisions “as an alibi to invade Beirut with the force of arms” and putting “civil peace in danger.”

Aridi said the government decided to annul the decisions only “to extricate the country” from the looming possibility of deepening civil conflict.

“There is no winner as a result of what happened, but there is a loser,” he said, “and that is Lebanon.”


Special correspondent Raed Rafei contributed to this report.