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Last Updated: Friday, 4 March, 2005, 11:57 GMT
Interview: Hezbollah view of crisis
Hezbollah rally in Beirut to mark Ashoura
Hezbollah supporters on the streets of Beirut to mark Ashoura
So far Lebanon's Islamic movement Hezbollah has kept a discreet silence about the protests demanding Syria's immediate withdrawal from the country. The group has supported Syria's presence in Lebanon and is unhappy at the efforts of the US and Israel to weaken its two external patrons, Syria and Iran. The BBC's Barbara Plett interviewed Mohammed Fneish, a Hezbollah member of Lebanese parliament.

BBC: How does Hezbollah assess events of the past few weeks: the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the subsequent protests, demands for Syrian withdrawal, and resignation of the government?

Mohammed Fneish: There's no doubt what happened in Lebanon was outrageous. The assassination of Rafik Hariri was a political earthquake and a blow to security. Everyone was upset and there is a national demand to find out who committed this heinous crime. Political parties have taken advantage of this incident to impose their demands, but that doesn't mean everyone agrees with them, there are other opinions. Anyway, we can look into a solution to fix the Lebanese-Syrian relationship, or to work on the political agenda, if the demands are within limits.

How do you respond to opposition demands for an immediate Syrian withdrawal?

It's not in Lebanon's interest and it would surpass the Taif Accord [the 1989 peace agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war]. It would separate Lebanon from national issues and draw the country into an international conflict led by America for its own interests related to Iraq and Israel.

But Taif was agreed 16 years ago and Syria is still in Lebanon. What do you think about the opposition's demands for Syria to officially announce a timetable for withdrawal?

We cannot decide a time schedule, this is for the Lebanese and Syrian governments to decide. There are regional conflicts, so these things will influence the decision. The Syrian military presence is necessary because of the continuous conflict with Israel.

What do you think of the opposition's other demands, including an international investigation into Rafik Hariri's death, and the resignation of Lebanese security chiefs?

Finding out who assassinated Rafik Hariri is something that everyone agrees on. This is something national. It's not only a political matter, but a judicial one that can't be dealt with by political resignations. But asking people to resign is like blaming them before the investigation. In every country there are problems, like what happened in the United States on 9/11. First there has to be the investigation, then the truth will be found, and if there is negligence, then the culprits will get reprimanded.

In general, did you see the statement as confrontational?

Yes, it was confrontational, because they started out by saying the presence of the president was unconstitutional. And then they demanded the resignation of all the security chiefs, and the complete withdrawal of the Syrians. This will create a crisis because we are in the process of forming a new government and preparing for elections. And the time schedule is getting very short. If the confrontation goes on that will lead to a constitutional vacuum.

What would you say is Hezbollah's position?

We are not with the opposition or with their opponents. We agree with some of the opposition demands such as finding out who killed Mr Hariri, and correcting Lebanon's relationship with Syria. But we agree with the loyalists when it comes to the Taif Accord and the repercussions of the Arab Israeli conflict.

Hezbollah has a historical relationship with Syria, so do you think it could play a mediating role?

There is an invitation from some opposition parties for Hezbollah to play a role as a mediator. Hezbollah is more than ready to start a dialogue, but the condition is that we want to know the limits of the demands of the opposition. The most important thing is that we Lebanese should agree on the national project, then we go to Syria with the Lebanese government and we can reach these points.

To what degree do you see the protests as an authentic national movement?

I don't want to use the word accusation, but in the political world there is some interference sometimes. If this interference is within the framework of the Taif Accord, this is accepted. But if it goes beyond that limit, it will have another effect.

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