Powell holds talks with Lebanese, Syrian leaders; Thousands demonstrate in Beirut
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell flew to Lebanon Monday morning to press for an end to Hizbullah attacks on Israeli targets that threaten broader conflict.
Powell is the first American secretary of state to visit Beirut since Madeleine Albright’s brief stop-over in September 1999.
In Beirut, he was greeted with a massive demonstration. However, Powell held talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and was due to see Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, before visiting Syria, later in the day.
Powell said that Washington was concerned that attacks by Hizbollah could widen into regional conflict.
"There is a very real danger of the situation along the border widening the conflict in the region," Powell said after talks with Lahoud.
"It is essential for all those committed to peace to act immediately to stop actions across the border. This is the message I have conveyed and will continue to convey to all governments in the region."
"This is the purpose of my trip to Beirut and to Damascus later in the afternoon," added Powell.
Last week, US Vice President, Dick Cheney telephoned Syria’s President Bashar Assad and warned that Hizbullah’s actions in the Shebaa Farms could lead to a regional war. Assad reportedly told Cheney that while Syria had some “influence” over Hizbullah, it could not control the party’s actions.
In his talks in Beirut, Powell urged the Lebanese government to prevent Hizbullah from carrying out further attacks in the Shebaa Farms and to deploy the army along the border with Israel. Hizbullah has carried out attacks against Israeli outposts in the occupied farms on an almost daily basis since March 30.
Powell warned during a tour of northern Israel on Friday which coincided with a Hizbullah raid that the cross-border attacks could trigger a wider Middle East conflict.
However, before Powell's arrival the Lebanese information minister said Lebanon would tell Powell that cross-border guerrilla attacks against Israeli forces were likely to continue.
Speaking on television, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi accused the United States of being indifferent to the killing and suffering in the Palestinian territories and to the prospect of that conflict's escalating into a regional conflagration.
Upon his arrival to Syria, Powell said in Damascus that he wanted Syrian President Bashar Assad's assessment on "a way forward to negotiations" to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"We want to say the truth: 'We loathe America'. Powell get out of here," shouted Lebanese protesters, who carried pictures of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
"The Palestinian people are being exterminated by an American decision. America is the leader of terrorism in the world", shouted the crowd, mainly from Hizbullah.
"Death to America, death to Israel," they chanted.
Hizbullah television station urged Lebanese to join the rally to protest against Powell's visit.
Lebanese troops and riot police fanned out along all the roads leading to Powell's meeting sites and prevented the demonstrators from reaching the airport or the presidential palace.
Schools and universities went on strike so that students could take part in the protests, television stations said.
Powell is expected to return to Israel on Monday evening to resume a mission to try and broker a ceasefire to 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)