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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Lebanon 'split' over Assad tirade
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria
Assad's speech was scornful of US "democracy" calls
A harsh speech by President Bashar al-Assad about his critics in Lebanon has increased tensions between the pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Beirut.

In a rare TV speech on Saturday Mr Assad lambasted those who accused Syria of meddling in Lebanon.

"Where were these forces at the start of the war when the Lebanese were being massacred?" he said.

One Beirut paper called the speech a declaration of war and a Hezbollah MP said Lebanon was now split in two.

"After President Assad's speech, Lebanon is now divided into two camps," Nasser Kandil MP told a meeting of Lebanon's pro-Syrian Baath party.

"One which supports UN Resolution 1559 [calling for Syria's withdrawal] and the other that defends Lebanese-Syrian relations and the [anti-Israeli] resistance," he said.

The Lebanese have finished with the civil war, and efforts to resurrect this spectre for political motives are doomed to failure
Fares Sweid MP
Mr Kandil, a vocal supporter of Damascus, criticised Druze leader Walid Jumblatt who wants Syrian forces to leave Lebanon.

"Syria will not allow those who have never fired a bullet against Israel to give it lessons," he said.

Another Hezbollah MP accused supporters of Resolution 1559 - which also calls on militias like Hezbollah to disarm - of wanting "foreign intervention in Lebanon".

An editorial in the anti-Syrian paper al-Nahar meanwhile has carried an editorial by the brother of ex-minister Marwan Hamadeh, who was injured in an assassination attempt last week.

"The speech resembles a declaration for the launch of a new phase of Syrian policy in Lebanon based on confrontation and attack... as a war on international intervention in Lebanon and against the opposition," Ali Hamadeh wrote.

Lebanese massacres

On Saturday Mr Assad had claimed that Lebanon and Syria were two of the most stable countries in the region, which would be jeopardised by Syria's withdrawal.

In an apparent reference to France and the US, sponsors of resolution 1559, Mr Assad asked: "What did these forces - which have been expressing their attachment to Lebanon - do for the country?

"Where were these forces at the start of the war when Lebanese were being massacred in the name of socialism, justice and reform of the political regime?"

"Where were they in 1982 when thousands of Lebanese were killed and when Syria lost thousands [in the Israeli invasion]?" he said.

He also mocked Washington's "sudden attachment" to democracy in Lebanon.

But Lebanese opposition Fares Sweid said: "The Lebanese have finished with the civil war, and efforts to resurrect this spectre for political motives are doomed to failure."

Wrangling between pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud and his prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, over Syria's role has caused political deadlock in Beirut, delaying the formation of a new government.

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