UN envoy warns that Hezbollah expansion can threaten Lebanon

AP News
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Posted: May 13, 2016 9:08 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Hezbollah's involvement in the conflicts in Syria and more recently Iraq risks a spillover of sectarian tensions into Lebanon where the Islamic State extremist group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front are reported to be expanding, a U.N. envoy warned Friday.

Terje Roed-Larsen expressed serious concern that not only have Hezbollah and other militias continued their activities since the Security Council ordered them to disband in 2004 "but if anything they have expanded." He also expressed concern at the reported expansion of extremist groups, mostly in Palestinian refugee camps.

He called for the urgent disbanding of all militias in his final briefing to the council before stepping down on May 31 after 12 years, saying "their growing capabilities ... represent a major and dangerous threat to Lebanon's sovereignty, stability and political independence."

The Associated Press obtained the text of his closed briefing to the Security Council.

Lebanon has a national unity government that includes Hezbollah, which has two Cabinet seats. But Hezbollah also has an armed wing that is stronger than the Lebanese national army and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and recently the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council.

The deployment of Hezbollah in Syria, backing President Bashar Assad, has widened the militant Shiite group's circle of enemies beyond traditional foe Israel to include Sunni extremists and conservative Gulf monarchies.

Lebanon also faces serious political and humanitarian challenges.

Its parliament has failed to elect a president since May 2014 because of a lack of quorum amid political disagreements, and parliamentary elections have been postponed for security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Lebanon is currently hosting over one million Syrian refugees and 41,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Roed-Larsen, who deals with implementation of the 2004 Security Council resolution that among other things calling for all militias operating in Lebanon to be disarmed and demobilized, urged international support for the country's armed forces to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He called on Hezbollah and other parties to implement Lebanon's 2012 policy of "disassociation" from regional conflicts. He also urged Hezbollah and Israel to refrain from recent "provocative rhetoric" and abide by their obligations.

As for the presidency, Roed-Larsen urged Lebanese leaders "to set aside their partisan differences" and elect a president without further delay.