06/17/2008, 00.00

Secretary Rice brings US backing to Suleiman and Siniora

The US secretary of state’s short stop in Lebanon shows Washington is “present” in the Doha agreement and Lebanon’s presidential election. Clashes between pro- anti-government supporters in Bekaa Valley result in three dead and four wounded.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice openly backed Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman, and the country’s democratic system; she also called on the United Nations to resolve a dispute over the Shebaa Farms, a 30 km2 sliver of land occupied by Israel and claimed by Lebanon.

On a surprise, five-hour visit to Lebanon, in addition to President Suleiman Ms Rice met Prime Minister-designate Fuad Siniora, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leaders Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt and Amin Gemayel.

Her first reason to visit Lebanon was to show US support for the new Lebanese president and approval of the Doha Agreement that made his elections possible.

US solidarity with Lebanon’s pro-Western leaders is natural and US call for UN intervention on the Shebaa Farms issue is a way to buttress Siniora’s action.

Never the less, the US secretary was able to avoid entanglements with the Hizbollah issue. In answering journalists as to whether Washington would recognise a Lebanese government that included Hizbullah representatives, Ms Rice reiterated that the United States had long ago listed this movement as a terrorist organisation and that nothing had changed in this regard. But she also added that forming a government in Lebanon was a Lebanese issue.

In Lebanon however violence is again never too far away from politics. This morning three people were killed and four others wounded in armed clashes that raged in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley between pro- and anti-government supporters.

Some reports indicate that rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine gunfire were used in the fighting that took place in the villages of Taalbaya and Saadnayel, forcing the army to move in to separate the contenders.

The pro-majority Al-Mustaqbal daily said however that fighting had instead erupted after a quarrel broke out between Hizbullah and AMAL fighters on the one hand and Lebanese soldiers on the other. (PD)

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